ACC: A.J. Long

Story of the season: Syracuse

December, 16, 2014
Like fellow ACC cellar-dweller Wake Forest, Syracuse got a head start on the rest of its ACC comrades in starting the 2014 season. Like the Demon Deacons, the Orange received an early taste of just how brutal 2014 would be.

A Friday night opener with FCS Villanova turned into a one-point double overtime win, hardly the statement Syracuse was looking for as it embarked on Year 2 of both the ACC era and the Scott Shafer era. The victory over the Wildcats also provided an early glimpse at the turmoil that would engulf the Orange offense throughout their underwhelming 3-9 campaign.

Quarterback Terrel Hunt, who looked so promising down the stretch last season in leading Syracuse to a 7-6 season, got ejected in the first half of the opener for punching a defensive player. The offense sputtered without him, and it rarely fared much better when faced with a similar situation later in the season.

Hunt would go down with a season-ending broken left fibula in an Oct. 3 loss to Louisville. That weekend, Shafer stripped George McDonald of his offensive coordinator duties. McDonald's response was not exactly diplomatic, as he said he would not have left his previous post at Arkansas had he known he would be on such a short leash. He later apologized, but the awkwardness certainly lingered.

With a starting quarterback sidelined, and an assistant coach angered, things hardly got better for Syracuse. Backup quarterback Austin Wilson suffered a head injury. Backup to the backup, A.J. Long, suffered a nerve injury to his throwing arm. Three different signal-callers started a game -- Hunt and Long started five, while Wilson started two -- and four ended up playing. The fourth man of that group, Mitch Kimble, said after the season that he intends to seek a transfer upon semester's end.

When your punter (Riley Dixon) is tied for second on the team in touchdown passes (1), you know you have a problem.

The offense sputtered throughout. Syracuse ranked 100th or worse in a number of different categories, most notably scoring (17.1 ppg), total offense (329.3 yards per game), yards per play (4.9), passing yards (184.08 ypg), first downs per game (16.8), third down conversion rate (34.1 percent) and red zone efficiency (40 percent).

The Orange's raw QBR (33.1) and adjusted QBR (39.5) both ranked among the nation's worst as well.

The disappointing part is that the offense undid a defense that was good enough to win at least a few more games. Syracuse ranked in the top 30 nationally in total defense (349.2 ypg) and yards per play (5.0). The Orange's rushing defense was stout, too, giving up just 3.39 yards per carry, good for 19th nationally.

The offense was hardly helpful even when at full strength, unable to make a five-loss Notre Dame team pay for five turnovers in a 16-point loss. That came one week after losing to five-loss Maryland at home by 14, in a game the Orange out-gained the Terrapins by 220 total yards. (Two turnovers did the home team in.)

Later in the year, Syracuse turned it over three times, including an 82-yard pick-six, to lose by seven at home to an NC State team that had not won a league game since 2012. The Orange also wasted a four-turnover effort by Clemson in a 10-point loss one week earlier.

Where Syracuse goes from here will be telling about the future of the program. The Orange entered this fall talking eight-win seasons but took a big step back, winning just one league game and ending the season on a five-game skid. Things will only get more difficult now, too, in an Atlantic Division that includes a rising Louisville team that is knocking on the door of the conference's heavyweights.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
The ACC lacks any marquee matchups this week, but that doesn't mean there's no intrigue. Here's what to watch for during Week 11's games.

12:30 p.m.

No. 22 Duke at Syracuse, ESPN3, #DUKEvsCUSE: The Blue Devils are now in clear command of the Coastal Division, but that could change in a hurry if they can't get past Syracuse. The Orange offense has struggled all season, and while freshman QB AJ Long threw for 307 yards against North Carolina State last week -- the first time in nearly two years a Syracuse QB topped 300 yards -- he's doubtful to start this week due to a nerve issue in his throwing arm, pinning the offensive hopes on redshirt freshman Austin Wilson instead. Duke's defense struggled against Pitt last week but has been one of the more fundamentally sound units in the nation previously. Perhaps most important for the Blue Devils is that star wideout Jamison Crowder is coming off a breakout game, and Anthony Boone has the eighth-best Total QBR among Power 5 QBs over the past month.

No. 24 Georgia Tech at NC State, ESPN3, #GTvsNCSU: The Wolfpack finally have an ACC win, which means the monkey is off Dave Doeren's back. But it's not likely he spent much time celebrating this week, as Georgia Tech comes to town sporting one of the nation's most prolific offenses. The Yellow Jackets are 11th nationally in yards per play, second in yards per pass attempt and eighth in yards per rush. The problem for Tech is that the defense has been a sieve for much of the season, and Jacoby Brissett and the NC State offense will try to take advantage. The last time NC State won ACC games on consecutive Saturdays was 2011.

6:30 p.m.

Virginia at No. 2 Florida State, ESPN, #UVAvsFSU: Coming off two straight escape acts against Notre Dame and Louisville, Florida State is hoping for an easy one against a struggling Virginia team that has dropped three straight. The Seminoles certainly deserve to be favorites, but the Cavaliers' run-heavy offense and disruptive pass rush could prove matchup problems for a Florida State team still struggling to get healthy up the middle on both sides of the ball. Last week, Dalvin Cook had a breakthrough performance on the ground for the Seminoles, and he and Karlos Williams will need to keep the rushing game going this week if FSU wants to avoid another close call.

7:15 p.m.

Louisville at Boston College, ESPN2, #LOUvsBC: Boston College is bowl eligible for the second straight season, but the Eagles are quick to say that's not the only objective these days. BC is looking to improve its postseason stock, and with Tyler Murphy leading a big-play offense, Louisville's D figures to have its hands full. Murphy is 35 yards shy of becoming just the second ACC quarterback in the last decade to rush for 1,000 yards, and Louisville's D is still licking its wounds after being gashed by Florida State a week ago. The pecking order in the Atlantic has gone largely according to predictions so far, but BC has a chance to push its way up the standings with a win here -- and as unlikely as it seems, the Eagles still have an outside shot to win the division if they win out and get a little help from FSU.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
The biggest game of the week in the ACC was played Thursday, but the Saturday slate offers some intrigue, too. Here's what to watch for.


No. 24 Duke at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #DUKEvsPITT: They're not getting much national respect, but the Blue Devils are once again riding high and poised to take the ACC Coastal Division for the second straight season. In fact, Duke has won 14 of its past 15 regular-season games, and it will be out for some revenge against Pitt after the Panthers outlasted the Blue Devils in a 58-55 shootout a year ago. Pitt's offense hasn't looked nearly so sharp this season, but Duke's defense has allowed at least 200 rushing yards to four of its past five opponents, which could be good news for James Conner and the Pitt ground game.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsTyler Murphy may have a big day running against Virginia Tech's porous rush defense.
Boston College at Virginia Tech, ESPN3, #BCvsVT: The matchup looks bad for the Hokies. No Power 5 team has surrendered more rushing yards to quarterbacks than Virginia Tech. No Power 5 quarterback has rushed for more yards than Boston College's Tyler Murphy. If Tech can't find a way to slow Murphy, it figures to be another long day, and questions about the program's direction will get only louder. For BC, however, a win would make the Eagles bowl eligible for the second straight season, a huge accomplishment for Steve Addazio and his staff that took over a program that had won just six games total in the preceding two years.

North Carolina at Miami, ESPN3, #UNCvsMIA: If Duke is the Coastal Division favorite right now, this game may determine the Blue Devils' prime challenger. Miami already beat Duke head-to-head, and Brad Kaaya, Duke Johnson and the offense appear to be getting stronger as the season goes along. North Carolina was a disaster to open the year for the second straight season, but just as it did in 2013, it appears to have righted the ship at the midpoint. If the Tar Heels can win for the third straight game -- this time against an improving Miami -- they'll have clearly made the leap from major disappointment to serious contender for a division title.

3 p.m.

NC State at Syracuse, ESPN3, #NCSUvsCUSE: If Dave Doeren is going to put an end to NC State's 11-game conference losing streak, this would be the week to do it. The Wolfpack are coming off a bye and will get a handful of defensive contributors back from a suspension. Syracuse will be playing with freshman A.J. Long at QB for the third straight week, and he failed to find the end zone in the Orange's last game against Clemson. Both teams likely need a win to keep any legitimate hopes of a bowl game alive, but for Doeren and NC State, it's simply a matter of getting the monkey off their backs in ACC play.

3:30 p.m.

Virginia at Georgia Tech, ESPNU, #UVAvsGT: There's no doubt Virginia is a much improved team this season, but if the Hoos want to make a bowl game -- and if Mike London wants to keep his job -- winning in Atlanta might be a requirement. Florida State and Miami remain on the schedule before a regular-season finale against Virginia Tech, a team Virginia has lost to 14 of the last 15 years. The Hoos need two more wins, and one likely needs to come against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, still have a legitimate shot at winning the Coastal, but they can't afford another slip up. UVA's run defense is ranked No. 9 in the nation, which means it should provide a serious test for Tech.

ACC morning links

October, 30, 2014
The game plan for Clemson’s offense with Cole Stoudt has been conservative to say the least.

As The Post & Courier writes, Stoudt isn’t looking downfield often. Of his 35 attempts last week against Syracuse, 21 were thrown to targets behind the line of scrimmage. Ten were thrown downfield at least 15 yards, and he completed just two. And that’s a big reason for the lack of real productivity for the Tigers.

As we noted in our weekly By the Numbers post, of the 93 quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts vs. FBS competition, Stoudt ranks 92nd in yards-per-completion at just 9.0.

Add to the lack of a downfield threat the fact that Clemson’s running game has been stagnant — just 3.5 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays, the worst among Power 5 teams save Wake Forest — and you’ve got a real problem.

The end result is that Clemson is averaging just 4.73 yards-per-play in the month of October, which ranks 105th nationally. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be saying that about a Chad Morris offense?

The good news is that Deshaun Watson continues to make progress from his broken finger, and while it’s unlikely he’s back for Wake Forest in a week’s time, the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 15 seems like a legitimate possibility. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman ran for 101 yards on 28 carries last week against Syracuse, which marked the first 100-yard game by a Clemson tailback this season.

A few more links for your Thursday reading pleasure:

The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at what makes Louisville’s defense so dominant.

DeVante Parker should be an interesting challenge for Florida State’s secondary, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Karlos Williams will play against Louisville, according to Jimbo Fisher, but he’s the subject of a university inquiry, as Yahoo notes.

Tonight will be a major recruiting night for Louisville as it hosts the defending champs, writes The Courier-Journal.

Anthony Harris hasn’t racked up the interceptions for Virginia as he did a year ago, but he’s still playing at a high level, writes the Daily Progress.

Miami will be missing a key contributor on the offensive line against North Carolina, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

If AJ Long is going to turn things around from last week’s struggles vs. Clemson, NC State looks like the right defense to do it against, writes

Duke isn't getting distracted by its Top 25 ranking, writes the Associated Press.

In spite of Virginia Tech's struggles, Steve Addazio knows Lane Stadium is no easy place to win, writes BC Interruption.

ACC morning links

October, 27, 2014
A funny thing happened for the ACC in the final AP poll that will matter for the remainder of the regular season.

Florida State had the week off and yet it gained a little ground on No. 1 Mississippi State. The Seminoles are still No. 2, but the difference between first and second is slim.

Duke took the week off, too, but for the first time this season the Blue Devils snuck into the poll. They check in at No. 24.

But Clemson, which actually played and won on the back of a stellar defensive effort, took a step back in the poll from 21 to 22.

It was hardly a major shake-up for any of the three, and of course, the College Football Playoff committee will release its first rankings of the season on Tuesday, making all of this a moot point.

It will be interesting, however, to see how the committee evaluates the ACC’s few remaining contenders.

Does Florida State get credit for close wins over good teams, or does the national narrative of a flawed team carry sway with the committee?

Will the longtime perceptions of Duke as a second-tier program mean the Blue Devils, even at 6-1, are a long way from playoff consideration, or will last year’s success and this year’s strong start give the ACC a legitimate second option for the playoff?

And will the committee reward Clemson for two relatively close losses to top-10 teams or consider the eventual return of star QB Deshaun Watson? Or will the struggling offense and close game against Syracuse define the Tigers?

In other words, even in a league where there’s a clear favorite for the playoff, the release of the first committee poll still has some serious drama to it.

For what it’s worth, ESPN projects Florida State as the team best positioned for a playoff bid, while our FPI rankings have the Seminoles at No. 6 -- behind five SEC teams.

A few more links for your Monday reading pleasure…

The continued emergence of Boston College running back Jon Hilliman was one of the big bright spots of Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, writes BC Interruption.

Before the Clemson game, there was a QB controversy brewing at Syracuse. But against that Tigers’ D, A.J. Long looked like a true freshman, writes

The running backs played a big role in Georgia Tech righting the ship against Pitt, writes From the Rumble Seat.

Virginia’s late loss to North Carolina may have erased whatever safety net was left in Mike London’s quest to save his job, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly is on Virginia Tech’s radar, writes the Fighting Gobbler.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

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


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

3:30 p.m.

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

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

7 p.m.

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

ACC morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
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

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

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

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


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 morning links

October, 15, 2014
We start today, like most other days, talking about quarterbacks.

Louisville is going back to Will Gardner as its starter against NC State after two games with Reggie Bonnafon taking the first-string snaps. Syracuse, meanwhile, is looking more and more like it will be starting AJ Long at Wake Forest.

Gardner missed the Cardinals' wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse with a knee injury. He relieved Bonnafon at Clemson, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown. Bonnafon is still expected to play.

"Reggie came in and did a really good job and won us a couple games," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said, according to the (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer. "Will is back healthy now, so we're going to put in Will first."

Long, meanwhile, is taking most of the first-team reps for the Orange, who lost Terrel Hunt on Oct. 3 for 4-6 weeks because of a broken fibula and lost Austin Wilson late in Saturday's loss to Florida State to a big hit that the school has deemed an "upper-body injury." Wilson had not been cleared to practice as of Tuesday.

"He's feeling a lot better, and we're just trying to be smart with him," Shafer said, according to the (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink.

Here are the rest of your ACC links ...

ACC Upset Watch: Week 8

October, 14, 2014
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.


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.

Syracuse spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Three things we learned in the spring about the Syracuse Orange:

1. Terrel Hunt kept his job. Coach Scott Shafer wanted Hunt to build off the momentum he generated toward the end of last season and earn the starting quarterback job again this spring. Hunt won 2013 team MVP honors the night before the spring game, then went out and connected on 12 of 15 passes for 95 yards, leaving little doubt that the offense will revolve around him in 2014.

2. John Miller has the inside track at center. The offensive line was hammered by injuries this spring, but Miller, a juco transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, took a big step, emerging as the likely front-runner to start in the middle. Miller's rise could keep Rob Trudo at guard after he initially switched to center this spring.

3. Marqez Hodge emerged at middle linebacker. Marquis Spruill's graduation made this spot a premium for the Orange to fill this spring, and the sophomore Hodge proved to be a physical presence. He took advantage of extra reps with Luke Arciniega out with a lower body injury. The former Will linebacker should bring more to the table after a promising rookie campaign in 2013.

Three questions for the fall:

1. How will the passing game look? Hunt's improvements are huge, but what good are they if he has no one to throw the ball to? Sophomore Brisly Estime is the best of the bunch, and he and Jeremiah Kobena made some big plays in the spring game, albeit against an injury-depleted secondary. But with plenty of capable running backs, Syracuse needs more playmakers through the air.

2. How good is the D-line without Jay Bromley? The Orange said goodbye to 10 sacks and 14.5 sacks from Bromley in 2013, production that will be tough to replace. Eric Crume is the most experienced man on the inside, but depth is thin there, possibly forcing Syracuse to play several bigger ends inside.

3. Who's the No. 2 QB? This isn't the worst problem to have, but Syracuse needs its youngsters to emerge in fall camp, as Hunt's backups are all first-year or second-year players (Mitch Kimble, A.J. Long, Austin Wilson and the incoming Alin Edouard). Backup quarterback will be among the biggest position battles come August.

One way-too-early prediction:

Shafer said he is aiming for eight wins this season, and he will get there, albeit with a 13th game. There is no shame in that, as consecutive winning seasons in a coach's first two campaigns -- both of which are in a new, tougher conference -- would serve as a tangible sign of progress, especially in the Atlantic Division.

ACC's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Because you know you want to see Larry Fedora rapping Drake lyrics
Though Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt ended last season on a roll, coach Scott Shafer was reluctant to tab him the starter headed into spring.

He wanted Hunt to earn the job again.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTerrel Hunt got firm footing for the No. 1 job in 2014 with his performance in the Texas Bowl.
Mission accomplished.

Offensive coordinator George McDonald said in a phone interview that Hunt is the team's starter, not a huge shock considering the momentum gained toward the end of last season. Still, Shafer did open up the competition this spring to see what all his quarterbacks could do.

Hunt just happened to be ahead of everybody else, and he continued to distance himself as the spring wore on. Syracuse plays its spring game this Saturday in a much different spot than a year ago -- with no real questions at the position.

"He’s had a really good spring," McDonald said of Hunt. "He’s doing a lot of things he wasn’t able to do last spring. For him, the game that made him a lot more comfortable was the Minnesota game. He’s really built off that game. He’s playing at a different level this spring."

Hunt turned in an MVP performance against the Gophers in the Texas Bowl, throwing for 188 yards and running for 74 more and two touchdowns in the comeback victory. But he started turning a corner before that, with solid performances against Pitt and Boston College -- a victory that sealed bowl eligibility.

The confidence Hunt gained at the end of last year has been evident this spring.

"He’s a totally different player," McDonald said. "He started the season as the second-string quarterback and then he got better and better. He went through his ups and downs, and really the Pittsburgh game he played well, Boston College, he really played well and the Minnesota bowl game he stepped up his game in terms of his leadership and what he was doing on the field. [Quarterbacks] coach [Tim] Lester really challenged him to keep building off that game and that’s what he’s done all spring."

Now, the battle for the backup job will head into the fall. Mitch Kimble, A.J. Long and Austin Wilson are all in the competition. Highly touted Alin Edouard arrives in the summer, too.

"The future is bright at the quarterback spot," McDonald said. "They’re all able to do what we want them to do, it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable with what we’re trying to do, just being able to play up to their abilities without playing with fear.

"The competition will be really heavy. Terrel has done such a great job this spring, he’s really distanced himself so now the competition is who’s going to get that No. 2 spot."

Q&A with Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt

April, 9, 2014
After a rocky start to the 2013 season, Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt wrapped up his first year as the starter with come-from-behind wins against Boston College and Minnesota. Now, he’s trying to carry that momentum into the spring, despite coach Scott Shafer’s reluctance to officially tab Hunt as the starter once again. We caught up with Hunt to see how spring football is going.

Q: With a year of playing time under your belt, how much better do you feel this spring than you did last season?

A: I feel a lot better. I was more confident going into it. I’m trying to take full command of the offense. I want everything to just work perfectly. It’s not going to be perfect, but you try.

Q: Coach Shafer hasn’t officially named you the starter, despite how you performed down the stretch last season. Has that had an effect on how you’ve approached this spring?

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt has been working on improving his passing mechanics this spring.
A: It definitely doesn’t hurt me. That’s his way of letting me know that nothing is ever given. You have to earn everything. Even if you had a great season, an OK season, whatever it was last year, you still have to come in and fight. You just have to be ready to come in and compete and not be laid back. I actually like that he said that.

Q: Regardless of your spot on the depth chart, it seems like you’ve really tried to take on a leadership role this spring. Was that a priority for you?

A: Yes, of course. My whole thing was working on little tweaks in my game, getting my elbow up on long balls or working on my mechanics. But one of my major things was becoming a leader like Ryan (Nassib) used to be, being that guy that everybody looks to, being more vocal, having everybody trust you. Whatever you say, they’ll put their heart out on the field to do. So I’ve worked on being more vocal and being that leader where young guys can come to me. It didn’t hit me until after the season, and I was like, wow, I’m the older guy in the room and they’re going to be asking me questions. And I just want to be able to give back to them what I received when I was younger.

Q: How much did the way last season ended help your confidence?

A: It definitely boosted it. It gave me a chance to actually have a comfort level, to know how the game is, how fast it is, how coaches get, how crazy it gets when you’re down and how crazy it gets when you’re up, and how you’ve got to be the same player at all times. It helped how it ended because we came up successful. It wasn’t the best season, but our first year in the ACC, people kind of counted us out and we made something happen. So that means a lot.

Q: You had a lot of success as a runner last season, but in the passing game, you struggled at times. What changes have you been working on in terms of mechanics or knowledge of the playbook to improve as a passer this year?

A: Just staying in the pocket longer, learning how to bend my knees when I throw, keeping my elbow up, having my footwork match with the route, where everything is on time and there’s no second-guessing myself. Just being able to do all that, everything else will come along the way. If I’m able to get my footwork right and get my elbow up, I’ll have more zip on the ball and I’ll be throwing the ball before the wide receiver gets out of his break, so a defense won’t be able to jump on it. Little things like that. A lot of guys on the team say I’ve been doing it better, staying in the pocket more, and that’s going to help in the long run. When somebody opens up at the last second, and I’m still in the pocket and can make a play.

Q: You were learning on the fly a bit last season, but your receiving corps was awfully young, too. How has that group improved this spring?

A: I would be afraid to be in that receiving room, there’s so much talent in there. We were young last year, and it was a learning process. Now that we all know the pace of the game, we all know what coach is looking for, everybody’s competing, and it’s crazy. It’s every man for himself within that team aspect. They let each other know, ‘I’m coming for your spot.’ One time, Ashton (Broyld) and Quinta Funderburk were going at it. He said, ‘I’m coming for your spot,’, and he’s like, ‘You’re not getting it.’ It’s little things like that, coaches love that because you’re never comfortable. The young guys are pushing me and I’m never comfortable. I’m making sure I’m doing a little extra, doing more than they’re doing. You just compete, and that’s all that really is.

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Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsHunt is focused on being patient in the pocket before running with the ball.
Q: You mentioned younger guys gunning for bigger jobs, and freshman quarterback A.J. Long didn’t hide the fact that he wanted your job, which led to a little friction. What’s your relationship like with him now, and how has he progressed this spring?

A: He’s a good quarterback. He came in a little hot-headed, but we all do. I love how he’s determined. He has the drive. He’s settled down. He understands his spot, he understands what he has to do and all the work you have to put in. I guess he didn’t know when he first got here because it’s tough. College football isn’t easy. We all had to learn that. I love his drive. He’s a fast quarterback when he gets out of the pocket. He reminds me of me when I first got here. As long as he keeps working, he’s going to be successful. I’m really proud of him, the way he came in, took on the offense, understanding the offense. I’m just proud of where we’re going right now.

Q: Shafer and others have talked about wanting to play much faster this season. What kind of an impact does upping the tempo have on you and your game?

A: It’s good. It means that I’ve got to get in better shape -- I’m not in bad shape, but you’ve got to be able to get around after a 20-yard run and getting tackled, you need to be able to walk around, tell everybody what they need to do, read the defense and take a breath. We’re going way faster than we were last year. There’s less communication between me and the wide receiver. Everybody is doing their job. The coaches are signaling into them now so they don’t have to look at me. As soon as I get the player, I tell the O line, I look at the wide receivers and we’re ready. I don’t have to talk to everybody. There’s less communication and more football.

Q: Is that even something you would’ve been capable of doing last year, or is it a facet to the game plan that has come with your maturity and the growth of the guys around you?

A: Definitely. Last year we were all young. The coaches were young themselves -- not young, but Coach [George] McDonald, this was his first offensive coordinator job. So going into it, you’re really excited and you want to do a whole bunch of things, but you want to make sure your players master the things you do. So we figured, shorten the playbook and master those plays and everything will work out.

ACC class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013

Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the ACC, check out our conference rankings:

1. Florida State, 24 commits: The Seminoles have the top class in the ACC and the No. 2 class nationally. The class includes 10 ESPN300 prospects, including a trio of linebackers Kain Duab (Jackonsville, Fla./Sandalwood High), Jacob Pugh (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby High) and Delvin Purifoy (Pensacola, Fla./Pensacola Catholic High). The Semionles could close with a bang with up to 31 or 32 possible in the class. No. 6 Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra High), No. 13 Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen High), No. 22 Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara High), No. 28 and Florida commit Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead High) and a number of others make up the wish list.