Thursday, December 19, 2013
ACC's players to watch in bowl season
By David M. Hale and Matt Fortuna
The ACC has a record 11 teams playing in bowl games this season, and that means plenty of showcase opportunities for the league’s stars. But dig into the matchups and five players have the most on the line as the ACC looks to build its résumé during bowl season.
Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse Texas Bowl (Dec. 27 vs. Minnesota)
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown 16 touchdown passes and been intercepted 13 times this season. Can he finish his career with a bowl win?
With a new quarterback and a new coach, it was clear this would be a year of transition for Syracuse, but the Orange weathered the storm of an 0-2 start to reach a bowl game for the third time in four years. The turning point came in Week 3 when Hunt took over for a struggling Drew Allen at quarterback. Hunt accounted for eight TDs against Wagner and Tulane, but the rigors of the ACC proved more difficult. In conference games, Hunt completed just 57 percent of his throws, with just three touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. But his last two games (a one-point loss to Pitt and a 34-31 win over BC) were his best (66 percent completion, 3 TDs, 1 INT), and the Orange hope that growth will continue into the bowl game against Minnesota. Hunt is a dangerous runner, but as Syracuse looks to finish strong and build momentum toward 2014, his progress as a passer offers ample reason for optimism.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. Arizona)
Williams will get another chance to leave a final impression. The senior left the Eagles' regular-season finale at Syracuse, a game they ended up losing, with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to be fine by the time his team takes the field in Shreveport, La. The early exit -- nine carries for 29 yards -- likely cost him whatever extra votes he could have picked up in the Heisman Trophy race, but now he'll have a chance to further improve his draft stock. Williams has been all over the place in the past few weeks -- from a media tour in Bristol, Conn., to awards shows in Orlando, Fla., and New York. And he might meet his match when facing the Wildcats. Their star running back, Ka'Deem Carey, is the only player in the nation who averages more carries per game (29.27 to 27.42).
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. No. 17 UCLA)
The Hokies need to score more than usual if they are to upset the Bruins, who rank 23rd nationally in points per game (36.5). The defense has been the backbone of Virginia Tech, ranking fourth in total defense and eighth in scoring D, but it will need help. Enter Thomas, the talented senior who has failed to meet many outside expectations the past two seasons. The victim of shoddy receiver play earlier this fall, Thomas delivered his best performance in what was arguably his team's most important ACC game, completing 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns last month at Miami. He will need better protection up front in his collegiate finale -- sacked 11 times in the last two games -- and will probably shoulder a bigger burden with his legs, as leading rusher Trey Edmunds suffered a broken right tibia in the regular-season finale.
This is it for the Tigers' signal-caller, who has rewritten a large portion of the ACC record book but, as the narrative goes, has failed to deliver in the big games. Boyd's two worst showings this season came in Clemson's two losses: versus Florida State and at South Carolina. He is just 1-5 against those schools as a starter, despite owning a remarkable 127 total career touchdowns to his name. And he returns to the Orange Bowl, where he fared OK two years ago (282 total yards, 2 TDs, 3 TOs) but was completely upstaged by West Virginia's offensive explosion. Now he gets one more shot to deliver a strong performance against a big-time opponent in the Buckeyes, whom he passed on in favor of Clemson while coming out of high school.
Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State VIZIO BCS National Championship (Jan. 6 vs. No. 2 Auburn)
If Jameis Winston has been the face of Florida State’s team all season, Smith has been its heart. The senior linebacker is the Seminoles' emotional leader, the biggest talker on the practice field and on game day. While teammates laud his off-the-field exploits, Smith's role on the field against Auburn will be far more significant. The Tigers will want to run the ball early and often, and Smith will be at the forefront of FSU’s effort to slow them down. For two years, Smith platooned at middle linebacker because he was far more effective against the pass than the run, but he has blossomed this season, leading Florida State with 75 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss. With Timmy Jernigan creating havoc up front, Smith has snuffed out runners routinely, and Florida State’s first-team defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Of course, Auburn has more rushing touchdowns than any team in the country, so the challenge for Smith and the Seminoles defense will be far bigger in Pasadena than anything they’ve seen so far.