ACC: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Bowl game matchups: Notre Dame vs. LSU

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-5) vs. No. 23 LSU Tigers (8-4)

Dec. 30, 3 p.m. ET, LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee (ESPN)

Key matchup: Notre Dame QBs Everett Golson and Malik Zaire vs. LSU's secondary

Why it matters: Stop us if you've heard this before: The Irish have quarterback issues and the Tigers have a dominant secondary. While it is unclear who will start under center for Notre Dame, Golson and Zaire are both expected to see playing time, as Zaire relieved Golson in the regular-season finale following the former's 22nd turnover of the season. Who knows how this plays out between the two moving forward -- heck, Golson vs. Zaire may actually be the key matchup in this game, by definition -- but it is clear that both QBs will have their work cut out for them against LSU defensive backs that led the nation's No. 4 pass defense, having surrendered just 163.33 yards per game through the air. Golson needs to protect the ball and make better decisions. Zaire needs to show he can thrive in extended action and take control of an offense. Standing in their way are guys like All-SEC second-team safety Ronald Martin (2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles) and All-SEC freshman first-teamer Jamal Adams (5 break-ups, 5 passes defended). The Tigers boast two other DBs with at least two picks apiece, in Tre'Davious White and Rickey Jefferson.

Who wins: It is hard to find a favorable matchup in this contest for Notre Dame, though the struggles of LSU's offense at times have to be somewhat of a silver lining for an Irish defense that has been holding it together by a thread down the stretch of the season. Could Zaire, in theory, assume the mantle as Notre Dame starter and carve up the Tigers' secondary? In theory, sure. But the safer bet is that the LSU D provides too tough of a challenge for an Irish offense that has consistently gotten in its own way, and the Tigers' offense is able to do enough against a banged-up Irish D. LSU hands Notre Dame its fifth straight loss to end the season, winning this one 38-27.

ACC morning links

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
On Thursday I outlined discussions we had about how Georgia Tech could possibly sneak into the College Football Playoff with a win this Saturday.

I might have been overcomplicating things.

Colleague Brad Edwards took to Twitter to show a far simpler scenario for the Yellow Jackets to get in.

In this scenario, as Edwards mentioned, No. 9 Kansas State would also likely find itself in contention for that No. 4 spot, as it would be a conference co-champion with No. 3 TCU after beating No. 6 Baylor.

And while No. 10 Mississippi State might have an argument after watching all of the chaos unfold in front of it, the Yellow Jackets would have the advantage of being a champion of a Power 5 conference, something Edwards thinks would ultimately give them the edge.

Is it that big of a stretch to think that No. 1 Alabama beats No. 16 Missouri, No. 2 Oregon beats No. 7 Arizona and No. 3 TCU beats Iowa State? And that No. 5 Ohio State, with its third-strong quarterback, falls to No. 13 Wisconsin, along with No. 6 Baylor falling to No. 9 Kansas State? I don't think it's all that wild.

Insider's Sharon Katz created a table for Georgia Tech that can serve as somewhat of a "who-to-roof-for" guide for Jackets fans this weekend, with scenarios big and small.

So it appears that the stakes may be that much higher for No. 11 Georgia Tech Saturday against No. 4 Florida State. Who would've ever guessed that? (Other than ace Spreecast viewer John, of course. Well done.)

Here are the rest of your ACC links ...
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Louisville pulled off the upset in its first-ever meeting with Notre Dame, escaping Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium with a 31-28 win to improve to 8-3 and send the Irish to 7-4. Here's how it went down:

How the game was won: After Louisville's John Wallace missed a 37-yard field goal with 5:03 left, Notre Dame marched 65 yards on 11 plays, setting up Kyle Brindza's potential game-tying 32-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right with 51 seconds left.

Game ball goes to: Brandon Radcliff was a force to be reckoned with for Notre Dame's defense, carrying it 17 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. Kudos to true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, too, as he added 35 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns while completing 8 of 21 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

What it means: Louisville still has an outside shot at the Discover Orange Bowl, depending on how the final selection committee rankings shake out. The No. 24 Cardinals will need Florida State to make the College Football Playoff — which includes Georgia Tech losing in the ACC title game — and will need to win out and hold off Clemson, which is ranked No. 22 as it readies for rival South Carolina next week. Notre Dame has now dropped four of five after a promising 6-0 start and remains searching for answers as to how it all came crashing down so fast.

What's next: It's rivalry week for both of these teams, as Notre Dame travels to USC for the regular-season finale, while Louisville closes its regular season at home against in-state nemesis Kentucky. Can the Irish stop the bleeding? Can the Cardinals keep the good times going after a standout Year 1 in the ACC?

ACC morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Dabo Swinney turned 45 on Thursday. And while he has had obvious success during his run at Clemson, his early body of work might surprise you, especially when compared to other big-name coaches.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down the numbers Thursday, illustrating just how well Swinney has fared before his 45th birthday.

Swinney has a career record of 58-26 during his tenure with the Tigers.

How did Nick Saban fare by the time he turned 45? 20-10-1.

Steve Spurrier? 20-13-1.

Frank Beamer? 19-30-1.

Jimbo Fisher? 5-1.

On and on it goes, a who's who of coaching legends current and past that Swinney is currently out-pacing. It really puts into perspective what he has accomplished since taking over in 2008.

Of course, he still has a ways to go when looking at a pair of his predecessors in Death Valley: Danny Ford had 96 wins before leaving Clemson at the age of 42, while Frank Howard had 72 wins by 45.

Kelly, Irish push through rare slump

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will coach his 63rd game at Notre Dame on Saturday, which is remarkable for the simple fact that the three men in his chair before him never made it this far.

Not Charlie Weis (62 games). Not Tyrone Willingham (36). Not Bob Davie (60).

No, the last time a Fighting Irish coach took the field for Game 63 of his tenure came Sept. 21, 1991, when Lou Holtz's squad rolled over Michigan State, 49-10. So much has changed since then. And yet so little has changed, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter some recent struggles, Brian Kelly's Irish look to finish the season strong.
 A win this weekend over Louisville would make Kelly the first Notre Dame coach to start his tenure with five straight seasons of eight-plus wins. No Irish coach has done that during any five-year stretch since 1987-93, a run that saw Holtz coach the program to its last national title.

Notre Dame will go yet another season without a title in 2014, a drought that now stretches 26 years, and a goal that probably looked like a distant dream this past weekend as the Irish fell to Northwestern for loss No. 3 on the year.

Of course, as recently as two weeks ago, before losing at Arizona State, the Irish were right in the thick of things. A month ago they looked ready to break through that title ceiling, unbeaten as they took defending champion Florida State down to the final seconds in a loss.

Reconciling the fall from grace has been a maddening task for the Irish as they enter Senior Day against the Cardinals.

"I think college football is such that it comes down to a couple of plays and a fine line," Kelly said. "And that's why it's so critical that when you turn the ball over like we do, and when we turn it over, it's critical. I mean it's catastrophic turnovers."

Of course, the frustration that comes with a three-loss season is a far cry from what those seniors experienced upon entering Notre Dame at the ground level of the Kelly era.

"I think definitely from freshman year to now, we definitely turned the program around," said offensive tackle Christian Lombard, who, like Kelly arrived to the Irish for the 2010 season. "It's a winning program now, and we expect to win every game. We expect to win every game at home, we expect to be right there with teams, it's just the way it is around here now. It's one of those institutions [like] it was back in the day, so we're all really proud of that."

Added end Justin Utupo, a fellow redshirt senior: "We're obviously the first class that was brought in and [the coaches] looked at us to help build what they were trying -- this winning culture. I was here from the start. I've seen when we were bad. I've seen when we were really good."

Holtz said Kelly has been able to implement such expectations because of his vision and because of his plan to execute that vision. It comes from the benefit of being a head coach at three other stops beforehand, a luxury Holtz was afforded as well, having been in the big seat at five different college and pro stops before taking the Notre Dame job.

Kelly's last three coordinators at Notre Dame earned head-coaching jobs elsewhere. Last year's Irish team had eight players drafted, the program's most in a single draft in 20 years. That the Irish started 6-0 without them -- and without four players lost to academic suspensions two weeks before the season -- speaks to what is in place. That three losses in their past four games has sparked a world-is-ending feeling around the fanbase speaks to the climb left to be done.

 "He's got a young football team this year," Holtz said of Kelly. "And I think next year may be his best football team."

Depending on one's preferred math, the Irish could be returning 20 starters in 2015. And that does not include the potential return of several of their currently suspended players.

That could make this final stretch all the more important for the near-term future of a program that is toeing the line between a 7-6 and a 10-3 campaign this year, a program soon-to-be filled with a new cast of characters that had little part of that 12-1 run to the national title game two years ago.

"They understand that there are some tough times," Kelly said. "But, relatively speaking, I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4-5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparison. You're now in a winning environment. And you've won a lot of football games. Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 182 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective."

Holtz, who lasted 132 games on the Notre Dame sideline, is doing just that when it comes to the man currently in charge.

"I hope Brian Kelly reaches the next 63," he said.

ACC Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Fortuna: Can Duke handle its first Thursday night game? Can it withstand the very real target on its back that has come from beating UNC two years in a row? Can it clean up its offensive miscues from this past week against Virginia Tech? That last question will matter most Thursday, as the Blue Devils will have to score plenty of points to keep up with QB Marquise Williams and the Heels offense. Turnovers will be key for Duke's defense, but here's guessing that Williams rebounds and delivers after throwing the game-sealing pick in last year's game. UNC 35, Duke 30

Hale: Saturday’s loss was a tough one for the Blue Devils, but it was hardly a game in which Duke was outplayed. David Cutcliffe's team has thrived all season by getting all the little things right -- but against Virginia Tech, Duke looked like a different team. So what’s more likely to happen: Duke falls apart again in a must-win game or it reverts to its status as one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country? I’m betting on the latter, but I don’t need a leap of faith to get there. The biggest difference against the Hokies was a ferocious Virginia Tech pass rush, and UNC doesn’t bring anything close to that caliber of defense to the table. Anthony Boone will have time to throw, Jamison Crowder will find space downfield, and the Duke running game should have room to run. Duke has no choice but to get a win here, and Cutcliffe will have his team ready to get it done. Duke 31, North Carolina 27

Adelson: There is one stat that illustrates why Louisville will win: Everett Golson has 19 total turnovers in his past seven games. The Louisville defense has forced 25 turnovers this season, one of the best marks in the country. And Golson will be playing with a bum shoulder. So the focus has to be on whether Golson can finally start taking care of the football the way he did earlier in the season, something coach Brian Kelly has stated publicly for weeks now. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional overtime loss; Louisville had a bye to prepare. The Cards are not going to be intimidated, either, having played in big-time atmospheres over the past several years. Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24

Fortuna: Notre Dame was not as good as its 6-0 start indicated. But it's not as bad as this current slump indicates, either. Saturday against Northwestern was the perfect storm of miscues that left the Irish vulnerable to defeat. And while the defense remains banged up, there are some talented newcomers who have slowly grown into their roles. Golson, for all of his giveaways, remains a dynamic quarterback, one who was on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion as recently as two weeks ago. If he can protect the ball -- and if the Irish can go through field goals without any pre-kick issues -- Notre Dame has enough talent to resemble the offense of a month ago and withstand the Cardinals' pressure up front. Notre Dame 31, Louisville 25

Unanimous selections

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: The Hokies believe the upset of Duke last week will spur a late-season rally, and the good news is Wake Forest should help boost that push. Virginia Tech should become bowl eligible after this game as it is hard to see the Demon Deacons' offense doing enough to beat the Hokies. Virginia Tech 21, Wake Forest 7

Syracuse at Pittsburgh: It has been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who are fighting to make a bowl game. The Panthers have two of the conference's best offensive players in James Conner and Tyler Boyd, and it will be tough for Syracuse and its struggling offense to match the production of those two. The Panthers defense should get a bit of a break this week after allowing 147 points in their past three games. Pitt 34, Syracuse 24

Boston College at Florida State: Boston College has the ability to annoy and potentially upset FSU because of the Eagles' ground attack and stout defense. However, Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles are physically ready for the Eagles. It would not be a shock if this game was close -- every FSU game is -- but at this point no one has been able to beat the Noles and that should continue. Florida State 27, Boston College 17

Georgia State at Clemson: The Tigers are playing Georgia State, which is 1-9 with all nine losses coming in a row. No matter who plays quarterback for Clemson, this should be an easy win. Clemson 49, Georgia State 0

Miami at Virginia: The Canes are reeling after a devastating loss to Florida State, and there certainly could be a hangover. The loss proved how far Miami has come and how talented the Canes are, though, and they should be able to beat Virginia. But don't count out the Cavaliers. The defense is good and the offense is getting better. They also had an extra week to prepare and need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Miami 24, Virginia 20

Current standings
Shanker: 63-16
Adelson: 62-17
Fortuna: 61-18
Hale: 61-18
Louisville has already completed its first season of league play in the ACC, with two nonconference regular-season games remaining. The rise in competition level was part of what drew Reggie Bonnafon to the Cardinals. But not even the rookie quarterback could have possibly imagined having this much on his plate this soon.

Yet No. 24 Louisville is turning to the former four-star prospect once again this weekend after starter Will Gardner went down with a season-ending left knee injury. Bonnafon has gotten used to being on-call so far, starting three games and tallying 662 passing yards with four touchdowns and one pick. Now he is tasked with leading the program into its first ever matchup with pseudo-ACC member Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bonnafon
Jim Owens/Icon SportswireLouisville freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon has passed for 662 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in limited action this season.
"It's the reason I chose to come to a place like this: to compete in a conference that is as high-caliber as the ACC," Bonnafon, a Louisville native, said. "There's never a week that goes by that you don't have a tough opponent in the ACC. It's some of the best players in the country you're playing every week. So it's a great honor and privilege to play in the ACC and it's just a thing that I grew up wishing that I could do."

Bonnafon's locker is next to Gardner's, whom he said has remained a huge help despite the injury, regularly attending meetings and offering encouragement to the newcomer every step of the way. Bonnafon enrolled this summer, and he said his early behind-the-scenes efforts helped in winning over his offensive peers and earning their respect as a guy capable of leading the offense. He slowly grew acclimated to head coach Bobby Petrino's offense along the way.

"Once you first initially get here it's a tough adjustment for anybody," Bonnafon said. "But once you get enough reps and meetings and things like that with (offensive coordinator Garrick) McGee and Coach Petrino, things come easier and you realize it's not necessarily such a high-complex offense (that) it may seem to be. But it's a great offense to be in."

Bonnafon demonstrated his growth during Louisville's last outing, at Boston College. He came in for the injured Gardner in the second quarter and completed 4 of 5 passes for 69 yards with two touchdowns. He added 76 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground. The Cardinals trailed 13-10 upon his entrance and ended up winning 38-19.

"I think Reggie has shown that he’s developed and matured," Petrino said. "Certainly the experience that he had early in the year, I thought, showed up in the second half of the Boston College game. I know he’s excited to get going and get ready to go play at Notre Dame."

Nothing has been easy for Bonnafaon, who endured tragedy shortly after his inaugural campaign got underway. His father, Wallace, died of a heart attack on Sept. 15, two days after Bonnafon's third college game. Bonnafon missed the following week's game at FIU to attend his father's funeral, and he has been overwhelmed by the support of his football family ever since.

With games against the Irish and rival Kentucky remaining, Bonnafon cannot help but think of how much he has grown in such a short, tumultuous period of time.

"I just think God's put me in a situation that he knew I was able to handle," Bonnafon said. "A lot of things have gone on this season. I don't think anybody but him could get me through that. The support from my family and also my coaches has really helped me a lot. They're always positive, trying to keep me upbeat. So I give all my credit to them."

ACC Upset Watch: Week 13

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
ACC Upset Watch never takes a week off. Not with the season set to end.


North Carolina (5-5, 3-3) at Duke (8-2, 4-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: Duke by 6. Both teams need this win badly: The Tar Heels to become bowl eligible; Duke to remain in the hunt for the Coastal Division crown. Duke is going for its third straight win in the series, but the past two years have not been easy -- the Blue Devils have won the games by a combined five points. Now, they only have a short week to prepare following a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech that was marked by uncharacteristic mistakes -- three turnovers, two missed field goals (including the potential game winner) and too many penalties. While Duke should be able to run the ball in this game, Marquise Williams will give the Tar Heels an opportunity to pull the upset. Last week against Pitt, he accounted for four touchdowns and went over 100 yards rushing. Williams leads the team in both rushing and passing and is the only ACC quarterback ranked in the top 10 for rushing yards per game (No. 7) and passing yards per game (No. 2).


Louisville (7-3) at Notre Dame (7-3), 3:30 p.m., NBC. Line: Notre Dame by 3.5. The Irish have hit a bit of a rough patch the past few weeks, so this is the perfect time for the Cards to take advantage. Though Will Gardner is out for the season, freshman Reggie Bonnafon has playing experience and that will help. So will having DeVante Parker and Michael Dyer on his side. The Irish have had issues stopping both the run and the pass this season, so those two could be in for another big day. Plus, the Louisville offensive line is coming off its best performance of the season. Defensively, Gerod Holliman could create problems for turnover-prone Everett Golson, and Lorenzo Mauldin could be back, giving the defense a much needed boost. Plus, Louisville has had a week to prepare for this game so you can bet Bobby Petrino will have some new wrinkles for Notre Dame.

Miami (6-4, 3-3) at Virginia (4-6, 2-4), 7 p.m., ESPN2. Line: Miami by 6. After playing such an emotionally draining game against Florida State, Miami has to now face a desperate (and physical) Virginia team while guarding against a letdown. Virginia has played Miami well over the past few seasons, winning three of the last four. The Hoos have to win out to get back to a bowl game, and potentially save coach Mike London's job. One of the big keys for Virginia is not only forcing turnovers, but scoring off them. Miami has turned the ball over 20 times this season so there will be opportunities there for the UVa defense. If Greyson Lambert can limit the mistakes, Virginia will have a chance.
Louisville's first go-round in ACC play is over, but the Cardinals do get to experience one last perk of ACC life this Saturday when they travel to Notre Dame. Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna weigh in with their thoughts on why each team can win.

Adelson says Louisville: Louisville is a few plays away from a few more victories this season, so it's easy to see why the Cards have a chance to go into Notre Dame Stadium and win Saturday.

For starters, the Irish aren't an immovable force. Not only have they dropped two straight, they nearly lost to Navy and North Carolina. Louisville is better than both of those teams, and better than Northwestern, too, the team that just beat Notre Dame in overtime.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's DeVante Parker
Joe Robbins/Getty Images)DeVante Parker's return has given the Louisville offense an extra dimension.
But rather than simply state that Notre Dame is down, there are a few matchups that point to Louisville as well. Even though the Cards are starting freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, he has plenty of game experience and will not be rattled. The best news for him? Having running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker on his side.

Notre Dame has had some issues stopping the run this season and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of its last five games. Dyer ran for more than 100 yards in his first two games back from injury and gave the Florida State defense fits, scoring three touchdowns in a game the Cards lost in the fourth quarter.

Parker, meanwhile, has been virtually unstoppable in his three games since returning from a broken foot. He has been as dynamic as anticipated, with 25 catches for 490 yards -- an average of 19.6 yards per catch. Arizona State has a similar running back-receiver threat in D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong, and the Sun Devils beat the Irish thanks to them -- and, maybe more importantly, an opportunistic, aggressive defense.

Do you know what Louisville has? An opportunistic, aggressive defense. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had five turnovers in the Arizona State game. In his last seven games, he has 19 total turnovers. That's not really the way to succeed against any team, let alone one that has forced 25 turnovers on the season, ranking No. 10 in the nation.

Of those turnovers gained by Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman has 13 interceptions -- just one away from tying the NCAA single-season mark. Golson has thrown 12 interceptions, so there is a pretty good chance Holliman will tie the record Saturday. As for the Louisville defense as a whole, coordinator Todd Grantham is not shy about blitzing and getting after the quarterback.

Louisville has 33 sacks this season. Going back to that Arizona State-Notre Dame game once again, the Sun Devils racked up seven sacks. Six of them came off the blitz, along with all five turnovers.

Here is one more stat that favors the Cardinals. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Louisville is allowing the lowest opponent Total QBR (16.3) in FBS; Golson is responsible for 73 percent of Notre Dame’s yards this season, the highest percentage of any Power 5 quarterback.

The plan for Louisville to win seems simple enough: get the ball into the hands of Dyer and Parker and have the defense put heavy pressure on Golson.

Fortuna says Notre Dame: If anyone can relate to the "few plays away from a few more victories" sentiment, it is Notre Dame. The Irish were a play away from dealing Florida State its first loss in two seasons and could have closed out Northwestern on any number of different instances this past Saturday. But that is neither here nor there.

For all of Notre Dame's recent troubles, this is still a dynamic offense, one that averages better than 35 points per game. Its miscues have been self-inflicted. Yes, Golson has been responsible for seven turnovers in his last two games -- and this may sound like faint praise here -- but two of the Irish's four turnovers against Northwestern came on fumbles from the unlikeliest sources at the worst possible time. How often does a receiver (Chris Brown) fumble into the end zone with a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter? How often does a senior captain (Cam McDaniel) fumble while trying to run out the clock?

And to take that one step further, how simple do the Irish's problems look right now if they have a functional holder in front of senior kicker Kyle Brindza, a problem that has come out of nowhere and complicated so much more for this team?

Of course, no one wants to hear excuses or what-ifs. But as Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week, Notre Dame at least knows what its problems are. It has a young defense that has been put in unfavorable positions time and time again by an offense that keeps tripping over itself. And the offense would have such an easier time keeping defenses off balance if it could establish a reliable running game, something FSU showed is entirely possible against this Louisville defense (173 yards, three TDs). It's not like the Cardinals' offense has been running defenses off the field. Yes, it looks different with the dynamic Parker split wide once again, and yes, Bonnafon may have plenty of experience, but a freshman quarterback walking into Notre Dame Stadium and pulling out a Senior Day win is no small task. The Louisville offense is still putting up less than 400 yards per game, a number that it will have a hard time topping in what should be another brutal day weather-wise in South Bend.

Joe Schmidt isn't walking through that door for Notre Dame's defense. Other injured guys might not, either. Still, we have seen this unit survive uneven performances before when its offense is clicking, most notably in a 50-43 win over UNC last month.

This game is, in many ways, a moment of truth for the Irish. Will they completely collapse after dropping two in a row and three of their last four? Or will they look like the team that was in the College Football Playoff hunt as recently as two weeks ago? The fact that they are capable of looking like the latter is what should scare Louisville -- along with the fact that Golson was in the Heisman mix during that hot start. It should be an emotionally charged afternoon for a group of seniors who helped usher in the return of this program. And Notre Dame at its best this season has looked better than Louisville at its best. The Irish just need to get out of their own way.
Scheduling is all the rage these days, as the College Football Playoff era has heightened the importance of who you play. (Just ask one-loss No. 2 Oregon and unbeaten No. 3 Florida State.) With that in mind, let's take a look at what some future ACC contenders (and Notre Dame) are doing through 2018 to ensure tougher competition year-in and year-out.

Remember, the ACC voted this summer to remain at eight league games, with at least one Power 5 nonconference requirement taking into effect come 2017. (Notre Dame fulfills that requirement, and many ACC teams already have permanent SEC rivalries.)


Who they’ve scheduled: South Carolina (every year), Auburn (2016-17), Texas A&M (2018)

Perhaps no Power 5 team nationally has consistently scheduled as strongly as Clemson. In addition to these three SEC opponents, the Tigers get Notre Dame next season and three other times before 2025. This isn't a particularly new trend for Clemson, either, as it faced Georgia in each of the past two seasons and Auburn in the three years before that. Kudos.


Who they've scheduled: Northwestern (2015-18), Baylor (2017-18)

There is a reason the 8-1 Blue Devils are ranked just 21st by the selection committee: They have not faced anyone of note, especially in nonconference play. Kansas isn't going to cut it as a Power 5 opponent. Credit David Cutcliffe and the program for performing at heights unforeseen in these past three years, but if it wants to take yet another step, it has to play tougher teams. Future opponent Baylor can resonate. (Duke does travel to Notre Dame in 2016 and, like the rest of its ACC brethren, three more times before 2025.)

Florida State

Who they've scheduled: Florida (annually), Ole Miss (2016 in Orlando)

FSU is the perfect example of how fickle scheduling in college football can be: The Seminoles have three Power 5 teams on their four-team nonconference schedule this season: Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. At this point, Notre Dame is probably the only of those three teams that has not underachieved this year. FSU returns the trip to Notre Dame in 2018 and -- drum roll, please -- gets the Irish two more times before 2025. USF (2015-16) and Boise State (2019-20) are also on the Noles' future slates, for whatever that may be worth at that time. (FSU has a few near-term openings, too.)

Georgia Tech

Who they've scheduled: Georgia (annually), Vanderbilt (2016)

The Yellow Jackets have a few future openings in the immediate short-term, and if they can build off this season's success, signature nonconference games will be crucial to helping make them a national player. A Notre Dame trip comes next year, too, with three more Irish games before 2025. There's a series with Ole Miss in 2022-23, too.


Who they've scheduled: Kentucky (annually), Auburn (2015 in Atlanta)

Schedule strength is what killed the Cardinals in their old league, and they need to schedule up more in their new one. The Wildcats are improved, but a win over them still means little nationally. Auburn is a terrific get, and Notre Dame is on the docket next Saturday (and, yes, three more times before 2025). Houston and Marshall are also on future schedules, too, though it's hard to imagine the Thundering Herd making another undefeated push without Rakeem Cato under center.


Who they've scheduled: Nebraska (2015), LSU (2018 in Arlington, Texas), Rutgers (2018)

There is Notre Dame in 2016, 2017 and twice more in the next 11 years. There is also Michigan State in 2020-21. (The Hurricanes faced Cincinnati, annually one of the best Group of Five teams, this year and will face them again next year, too.) It certainly helps the Canes' schedule strength that their annual crossover opponent in the Atlantic is none other than FSU.

Notre Dame

Who they've scheduled: Texas (2015-16), Michigan State (2016-17), Georgia (2017), Northwestern (2018)

To be clear, we took a different approach with Notre Dame: The Irish have an average of eight scheduled games in place annually between their rivalry games (USC, Stanford, Navy) and their average of five ACC opponents per year. So, for this exercise, we counted the four teams the Irish are left to schedule on their own. The Irish have some attractive matchups long-term as well, facing Ohio State in 2022-23 and Texas A&M in 2024-25. (Big Ten rival Purdue returns to the schedule in 2020-21 and 2024-26 as well.)

Virginia Tech

Who they've scheduled: Ohio State (2015), Purdue (2015), Tennessee (2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway), West Virginia (2017 in Landover, Md.)

The Hokies' short-term lineup is sufficient. Their long-term one is absolutely great for college football fans everywhere: Wisconsin (2019-20), Michigan (2020-21), WVU again (2021-22), Penn State (2022-23) and Purdue again (2023). Let's not overlook East Carolina, either, as the Hokies face the Pirates annually from now until 2020.

Happy Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Comparing ACC teams to horror villains in honor of Halloween:

Boston College: Chucky. We could never quite figure the drama of the “Child’s Play” movies. How is does a doll manage to terrify everyone? It’s sort of the same thing for Boston College. We’re not sure how Steve Addazio is doing it, but once again, he’s creating some havoc around the ACC.

Clemson: Pennywise. For our money, there’s nothing scarier than Stephen King’s evil clown. And around the ACC, what could be scarier than that Clemson defense?

Duke: Michael Myers. He’s quiet, he’s faceless, he’s ferocious. That’s Duke, too. The Blue Devils are that team that sneaks up on the rest of the Coastal and continues to torment again and again. Sure, they don’t have the flash of Freddy or Jason, but for sheer slasher-film consistency, it’s tough to argue with Mr. Myers, and it’s tough to find a team haunting its division more impressively than Duke.

Florida State: Frankenstein's monster. In spite of so many NFL departures and nagging injuries, Jimbo Fisher has still stitched together a team capable of inflicting serious damage this season -- a little like how Dr. Frankenstein stitched together his monster. And like the monster, FSU continues to rise from the dead -- coming back from deficits against NC State, Notre Dame and Louisville in miracle fashion. Fisher truly is a mad scientist.

Georgia Tech: The Xenomorph. The alien that stalked Ripley through four films was an unstoppable, genetically perfect killing machine. That’s sort of a good analogy for Paul Johnson’s offense at Georgia Tech. It’s not pretty -- but it just keeps coming at you again and again.

Louisville: Darth Vader. Bobby Petrino is back to work on a second Death Star, and while he’s widely reviled, we’re still hoping there’s some good under that mask.

Miami: The Blair Witch. Because it seemed a lot scarier in the 1990s than it does today. (Just kidding, Miami fans. We still love ya.)

North Carolina: Jason Vorhees. Just when you think you’ve killed them off, the Tar Heels are back again. This year’s rise from the grave could still put UNC in the ACC championship game if it can win out, which we’d happily dub Friday the 13th Part X: Fedora Takes Charlotte.

NC State: Regan MacNeil. The only thing NC State needs to prove the program is possessed by the devil is for Dave Doeren to start spitting some pea soup during his next postgame news conference. It’s an 11-game losing streak in ACC play for the Wolfpack, and someone needs to call in a priest to exorcise those demons. (And you thought we’d take the easy way out and pick the Wolfman, didnt’ you?)

Notre Dame: The Leprechaun. OK, this was an easy one, but since Notre Dame only gets partial member status in the ACC, we’re OK taking the easy way out. On a side note though, this has to be the most ridiculous idea for a horror movie sequel ever.

Pittsburgh: Two-Face. The Batman villain seems an appropriate costume for the ACC team that has managed to bounce back and forth from good to bad most often this season. Thumping BC? Check. Losing to Akron? Check. Upending Virginia Tech? No problem. Winning again the following week against Georgia Tech? Um, we think Pitt may have just fumbled again.

Syracuse: Uli the Nihilist. The semi-villain of “The Big Lebowski” feels like a good fit for Syracuse. He seemed a bit intimidating at the beginning of the film, but by the end, he was left with nothing but a bag full of Walter’s undies. Plus, like Syracuse’s offense in transition, Uli believes in nothing.

Virginia Tech: The Mummy. We’re not talking the newer version with Brendan Fraser, but the classic mummy wrapped in bandages. That feels appropriate for the banged-up Hokies, who’ve got plenty of key players bandaged up and hoping to postpone the end for a bit longer.

Virginia: Hannibal Lecter. Because if there’s any team that should be able to pair a nice chianti with a big conference win, it seems like it should be Virginia.

Wake Forest: Jigsaw. In the “Saw” movies, a terrifying set of circumstances leave the hero with virtually no options for escape and no ability to run. If that doesn’t sum up Wake Forest’s season, we don’t know what does.

ACC mailblog

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Enjoy the weekend, gang.

Ramon Capra (@RCap_UM) writes: Duke Johnson, ACC's best chance of Heisman?

Matt Fortuna: Ramon, no one is taking away from Johnson's dominance Thursday night, and throughout much of the season. But you still cannot ignore Jameis Winston. Yes, having won the Heisman last year makes it all the more difficult to win it this year. Yes, his childish antics cost him a chance to face Clemson (and nearly cost his team the game, division and repeat national title shot in the process). But on the field he has been, again, superb, especially in the second half last Saturday against Notre Dame, completing 15 of 16 throws for 181 yards and a touchdown. If the Seminoles win out and make the College Football Playoff, he will remain the Heisman front-runner from the ACC.

Stephen Lackey (@Slackeys) writes: If Duke wins out and beats FSU in the ACC championship game, do they go to the playoffs?

Matt Fortuna: Stephen, Duke reminds me a lot of Minnesota, in the sense that both lost an early game convincingly, have quietly won out since and now we're all realizing, "Holy cow, do we need to start talking about these guys in the playoff discussion?" The scenario you present is a big if — at least the beating FSU part — but there are still so many unknowns for me to really lean one way or the other. You have to assume the SEC winner will get in, and that conference might even get two, especially if Georgia or someone from the East tops the West in the league title game. If Michigan State wins out, I'd imagine that the Spartans are in good shape, considering their lone loss is at Oregon. Do Pac-12 and Big 12 teams then just beat each other up and ruin each league's chances? A 12-1 Duke team with a win over FSU could possibly knock out a potential 11-1 Notre Dame team, too, as the Irish's lone loss (at Florida State) would look worse, and they'd have no win to match Duke's best win. There will be so many fascinating subplots to all of this as we hit the home stretch in the inaugural year of the playoff. Also, wins such as Miami's rout at Virginia Tech last night certainly help Duke, too, considering the Hurricanes were the only team to beat the Blue Devils.

Wayne from Tallahassee, Florida, writes: So what's your take on the play in the FSU-ND game? I think the correct call was made and applaud the officials to make the call at that point in the game. I have always hated the philosophy to swallow the whistle in the final minutes. How far do you go with that --do you allow the receiver to just tackle a defender? I guarantee they wouldn't swallow the whistle on a late hit on the quarterback. PJ should have been flagged; that is one thing we can all agree on. I didn't see him remove his helmet live, but saw it on a replay.

Fortuna: Couldn't have said it better myself, Wayne. Well done.

Lynn Turk from Valley Center writes: Oh, oh! What about this view? From this vantage point, ND was robbed. Neither Fuller nor Prosise committed any fouls. FSU the aggressor in both cases. If ND wins out, will they be 11-1** (actually won)

Fortuna: Lynn, a wide receiver cannot block a defensive back on a forward pass like that. The call was correct. Now, if you want to talk about P.J. Williams not getting flagged for taking his helmet off after the play, as Wayne from Tallahassee just mentioned, then you have a valid argument, in my mind.
There is a simple bit of clarity confronting the ACC and Florida State eight weeks into the season: Perfection seems the only way to get the Seminoles into the College Football Playoff.

No other Power 5 program will be held to such a standard. But no other Power 5 conference has its reputation in a sinkhole the way the ACC does. That is why it was so important for Florida State to beat Notre Dame on Saturday. As long as the Noles keep winning, they are assured of a spot in the top four. But lose? Florida State may as well be playing in Conference USA. That is how little respect the ACC has nationally right now.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston was fired up after Saturday's victory over Notre Dame, but the Noles will have to keep winning if they hope to make the playoff.
Just look at the most recent AP and coaches Top 25 polls. While the College Football Playoff selection committee will put together its own rankings next week, it is instructive to look at how the media and coaches perceive the ACC -- outside Florida State.

Because the league as a whole is what will drag Florida State down if the Noles lose a game.

Besides Florida State, the ACC has only one ranked team. In the AP poll, Clemson (5-2) is No. 21 behind two other two-loss teams: Oklahoma and USC. Reigning Coastal champion Duke (6-1) cannot even crack the Top 25 after back-to-back victories over ACC teams with winning records. East Carolina (5-1), with wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina, is ranked No. 18.

Duke and Minnesota are the only 6-1 teams from Power 5 conferences that are unranked. That fact not only speaks to their status as “non-football powers,” but to the idea that their respective leagues are weak. The Big Ten has been panned for its mediocrity this season. But the ACC ranks lower than the Big Ten in the conference power rankings, sitting last among the Power 5 conferences.

Everything we heard during media days about the ACC being stronger? Everything we heard about the ACC gaining more respect since it boasted the national champion? False propaganda. As it turns out, an ACC world with the reigning national champion does not look much different.

Florida State is still alone holding the flag, while Clemson is a distant second. It is hard for a program to fight off the weak-conference stigma when it does not beat its most difficult opponents (Clemson) or play anybody tough out of conference (Duke).

Clemson lost to two Top 10 teams this season -- to Georgia and Florida State. Both teams were ranked higher than the Tigers at the time they played. Yet Oklahoma lost to two teams ranked lower (TCU and Kansas State) and is still four spots higher than Clemson in the AP poll.

These are the ingrained notions that follow programs around, no matter what they do. Clemson “chokes” and the ACC is constantly disrespected. Put them both together and you get critics completely dismissing Florida State’s win over the Tigers earlier this season.

Falling flat nationally hurts, too. While ACC teams like Virginia Tech, Boston College and Florida State have big wins over then-Top 10 opponents, the league also has some head-scratching losses to Colorado State, Akron and ULM. Plus, there were blown opportunities against UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa and Maryland.

So essentially, Florida State gets no lifelines from its conference foes. Even a beefed-up nonconference schedule has not engendered much goodwill from the rest of the country.

Funny to think that before the season started, many believed a one-loss Florida State team would survive and make it into the College Football Playoff based on a strength of schedule that looked much better than it did last season.

As it stands today, Florida State is on pace to play fewer ranked teams than it played in 2013. Right now, the Noles have two ranked teams behind them and none remaining. Last season, they played four Top 25 teams at the time of the matchup (two of them ended the season unranked).

Four of Florida State's remaining five games are against teams with winning records. But nobody wants to hear that going to Louisville and Miami won’t be easy; that Virginia is vastly improved; that Boston College gave the Noles fits last season. Florida State will be expected to win them all.

That’s really the only way the Noles can guarantee themselves a spot in the playoff.

Once again, Florida State is on its own.

If the 1993 matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame was the game of the century, Saturday night's contest certainly proved to be a worthy successor. The Seminoles held off a final drive from the Irish and stopped one last fourth-down heave from Everett Golson to preserve a 31-27 win, extend their win streak to 23 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

How the game was won: Florida State erased a 17-10 halftime deficit on the arm of Jameis Winston, who was nearly flawless in the second half, but it was a final defensive stand that was the difference. Notre Dame converted a fourth-and-18 with less than two minutes remaining, but Golson couldn’t get the job done again on the game’s final play. The Irish had four drives of more than 10 plays, but the 12th play of the final drive was a long throw from Golson that was picked off by Jacob Pugh in the back of the end zone, which gave Florida State the win.

Game ball goes to: Winston, of course. The FSU quarterback spent the week dealing with more off-the-field chaos, and he struggled in the early going against Notre Dame, including a foolish throw that resulted in an interception. But in the second half, Winston was electric. He completed 15 of 16 throws for 181 yards and a touchdown. Credit, too, to Winston’s receiving corps. Rashad Greene was spectacular once again and caught eight passes for 108 yards, while freshman Travis Rudolph (six catches for 80 yards and a score) took a huge step forward in his career.

What it means: For Florida State, it means the win streak is extended and the playoff hopes remain. For Notre Dame, it’s a blow to the postseason dreams. But it was also a showcase for just how good this team is, led by Golson, who battled cramps to turn in a tremendous performance. Notre Dame will certainly slide a bit in the polls, but with some big games remaining on the slate, the Irish still have a chance at the playoff.

Playoff implications: Florida State’s ticket certainly isn’t punched, given tough games against Louisville, Virginia and Miami on deck, but this felt like the biggest hurdle the Seminoles will face in defending their title. The question now is whether a close win over the No. 5 team in the nation can push FSU past Mississippi State for the top spot in the polls. The Irish proved a lot of critics wrong, but a loss is still a loss, and it’ll be a bit more of an uphill climb for them to reach the playoff.

Best play: There were plenty of them on both sides, but the two most memorable will probably be the two fourth-and-18 throws on the last drive. The first one was a minor miracle, as Golson completed a 20-yard pass to Corey Robinson with a man in his face to extend the drive. But the final throw from Golson was picked off in the back of the end zone to secure the win. Of course, for sheer drama, the play that preceded that last heave -- a touchdown toss to a wide open Robinson -- will be the one Notre Dame fans will talk about for years. A penalty negated the score and the win.

video What’s next: Both teams get a much-needed week off after Saturday’s heavyweight battle. Notre Dame returns against Navy on Nov. 1 but still has tough matchups against Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC to close out the year. FSU has a Thursday date at Louisville on Oct. 30 that could be a potential trap on the Seminoles’ way to the playoff.

Notre Dame's ridiculously photogenic RB returns

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
Cam McDanielMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Cam McDaniel lost his helmet after being hit by Florida State linebacker Reggie Northrup.
Notre Dame's Cam McDaniel can't keep his helmet on.

The running back who went viral by looking preposterously handsome during a game against USC one year ago Sunday once again lost his hat, this time against Florida State on Sunday.

This shot's not bad, but nothing beats the original.

Cam McDanielJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMcDaniel went viral by looking ridiculously photogenic against USC on Oct. 19, 2013.



Saturday, 12/20
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Thursday, 1/1
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