ACC: Brandon Ross

ACC Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
We have status quo in the top three this week. But there was plenty of shuffling in the middle of the pack. Again. Par for the course in the ACC.

1. Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC, last week: 1). The Seminoles remain in the hunt for a national championship after a thoroughly dominant win over NC State. Jameis Winston threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter -- the most pass yards in the first quarter of any quarterback this season. Another top-10 matchup looms this weekend, this time against rival Miami.

2. Miami (7-0, 3-0, LW: 2). The Hurricanes have had to overcome double-digit deficits in their last two games to stay undefeated. In fact, ESPN Stats & Information says Miami had less than a 25 percent chance of winning in the fourth quarter against both North Carolina and Wake Forest. Voila -- Miami beat the odds thanks to its run game and now has to face revved-up Florida State in Tallahassee.

3. Clemson (7-1, 5-1, LW: 3). The Tigers did not look pretty at times in their win over Maryland. But the key word in that sentence -- win. Clemson remained in the conversation for an at-large BCS berth thanks to solid performances from Sammy Watkins (single-game school record 14 catches), Rod McDowell (season-high 161 yards) and Tajh Boyd (15th 300-yard passing game).

4. Duke (6-2, 2-2, LW: 7). Congratulations are in order for the Blue Devils, who became bowl-eligible for the second consecutive season with a win over No. 14 Virginia Tech, their first win over a Top 25 team since 1994. It also happened to be the first Duke win over Virginia Tech since 1981. When you consider how badly the offense struggled throughout, major props go to a vastly improved defense that has put the clamps down in the second half in its last three games.

5. Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1, LW: 4). You could probably pick a lot of words to describe the Hokies' loss to Duke. Disappointing fits best, considering another stellar defensive effort was wasted in one of the worst offensive performances of the season. Logan Thomas threw four interceptions, ending a string of three straight games without one. The loss kicked Virginia Tech clear out of the rankings.

6. Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2, LW: 5). Welcome to the murky part of the ACC power rankings. Georgia Tech beat Duke earlier this year, but also lost to Miami and Virginia Tech. The Jackets also played a terrible game against Virginia -- turning the ball over five times -- and still managed to win. At this point, we have no idea which Georgia Tech team will show up every week.

7. Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3, LW: 8). The Deacs did lose, but they led Miami for nearly the entire game and played well enough to beat a top-10 team. Wake Forest is playing much better today than at the start of the season, and you can easily tell when you flip on the television. That is a big reason we have them here. Plus, they beat Maryland head-to-head.

8. Maryland (5-3, 1-3, LW: 9). After a 4-0 start, Maryland has lost three of its last four and is going to have to fight for a bowl spot. The Terps put up a valiant effort with just about every key offensive player on the bench against the Tigers. They get a week to rest before playing Syracuse at home. That game could get them to win No. 6, especially if C.J. Brown and Brandon Ross are healthy enough to return.

9. Pitt (4-3, 2-2, LW: 6). The Panthers lost on a last-second field goal to Navy, a team that Duke blew out earlier this year. They essentially let a winnable game against an average nonconference team slip from their grasp. These are the types of games ACC teams have to win. Pitt lost, and as a result has to take a tumble down.

10. Boston College (3-4, 1-3, LW: 10). We both thought Boston College would go into Chapel Hill and win. Instead, the Eagles lost 34-10, unable to find any consistency on offense against one of the worst defenses in the ACC. The bye week did not seem to do them any favors.

11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 11). Speaking of bye weeks, Syracuse was off after a demoralizing loss to Georgia Tech. We will see how the Orange regroup this week against Wake Forest, a game with major bowl implications for both teams.

12. North Carolina (2-5, 1-3, LW: 13). Congrats to the Tar Heels for picking up their first league win of the season. The two-quarterback system Larry Fedora is now using with Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams seems to be working, at least for now.

13. NC State (3-4, 0-4, LW: 12). The Wolfpack have lost three straight and are off to their first 0-4 start in league play since 2009. Coach Dave Doeren has had to deal with his fair share of injuries, but still, nobody expected this team to be winless in ACC play headed into November.

14. Virginia (2-6, 0-4, LW: 14). The Hoos have now lost five straight. How did this team beat BYU again? Virginia got career games from Darius Jennings and Tim Smith, five gift-wrapped turnovers from Georgia Tech, and still lost 35-25. It gets worse: They still have to play Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech.
More bad news on the injury front for Maryland -- starting quarterback C.J. Brown is out against Clemson on Saturday.

Brown was listed as out on the injury report released Thursday with a trunk injury. Coach Randy Edsall said this week that Brown was hurt against Wake Forest but did not disclose the nature of the injury. Caleb Rowe will start.

Starting running back Brandon Ross also is listed as out with a shoulder injury, joining starting receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs on the sideline.

Midseason report: Maryland

October, 15, 2013
A year ago, Maryland used five quarterbacks and finished with just four wins. This season, the news has been far better on both fronts.

Yes, C.J. Brown did get banged up against Florida State -- a game the Terrapins would love to forget altogether -- but he was stellar before the injury, accounting for 13 touchdowns and just one interception, and Caleb Rowe filled in nicely last week against Virginia. The result of the increased stability at the position has been a markedly more potent offensive attack. The Terrapins are averaging 11 more points and 164 more yards of offense per game this year than they did in 2012.

The defense, meanwhile, has been solid, pitching a shutout against West Virginia in Week 4 and ranking fourth overall in the ACC in yards allowed per play.

That's all added up to a 5-1 start that has Maryland poised for a bowl game in its final ACC season and 10 wins well within reach. That hasn't happened at Maryland since 2003. Yes, the Terps lost to FSU 63-0, putting a quick end to their time in the AP Top 25 and undermining some of the early enthusiasm following a hot start to the season, but there's no question Maryland has made significant strides this year.

Offensive MVP: Brown. Maryland has enjoyed its share of offensive playmakers, including Stefon Diggs (734 all-purpose yards) and Brandon Ross (5 yards per carry average), but Brown has been the difference -- at least when healthy. His athleticism was never a question, and not surprisingly, he's rushed for nearly 300 yards and six touchdowns. But he's been much improved with his arm, too, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns in only four and a half games of action.

Defensive MVP: Marcus Whitfield. The senior linebacker leads the team in sacks (5.5) and TFLs (8). He's racked up 25 tackles and forced a fumble and has been Maryland's most consistent defender all year.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
Here are your top five performers in the ACC for Week 7:

Duke quarterback Anthony Boone: Yes, Duke’s defense played an outstanding game, but it was a welcome-back party for Boone, who made his first start since suffering a fractured collarbone against Memphis on Sept. 7. With the 35-7 win over Navy, Boone improved to 4-0 as the Blue Devils’ starter, and in the process, he set career highs in pass completions, attempts and passing yards by hitting 31 of 38 (.816) passes for 295 yards. The completion percentage was the sixth highest by a Duke quarterback in a single game and the team’s highest since Sean Renfree completed 28-of-30 (.933) against Navy in 2010. Boone threw three touchdown passes for his second career multiple passing touchdown game.

Virginia Tech's defense: The Hokies absolutely smothered Pitt quarterback Tom Savage in a 19-9 Coastal Division win over the Panthers. The Hokies’ defense had a season-high eight sacks in the game, giving it 27 sacks for the season. The previous high this year was seven at East Carolina. It also had 10 tackles for loss. Dadi Nicolas, who moved from defensive line to linebacker with the purpose of getting to the quarterback, had a career-high seven tackles, including a career-high three sacks. Senior defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins had a career-high two sacks. Pitt was held to just 23 rushing yards, and the sacks added up to 49 yards lost.

Syracuse running backs: The Cuse running game was a big factor in the program’s first ACC win, a 24-10 victory at NC State. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each ran for more than 100 yards and a touchdown as the Orange racked up 362 yards on the ground. It was the second straight game that Syracuse rushed for more than 300 yards. Smith finished with 140 yards and ran for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Gulley ran for 132 yards and the 18-yard go-ahead score with 6:13 left. It was the first time Cuse has had two 100-yard rushers in a game since last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl win against West Virginia.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: He won the Leather Helmet Award, presented to the game’s Most Valuable Player following his dominant performance in the Tigers’ 24-14 win over Boston College. Beasley finished the day with one sack, two tackles for loss, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery and 13-yard return for a touchdown. On a day in which the offense wasn’t clicking, the Tigers’ defense was the difference, and Beasley was its anchor once again.

Maryland running back Brandon Ross: Of Maryland’s 468 yards of total offense, Ross accounted for a career-best 169. He finished with 88 yards on the ground and a personal-best 81 yards receiving. Following a 1-yard score in the first quarter, Ross picked up his second touchdown of the game on a toss sweep to the left from 7 yards out midway through the second quarter, marking the first time in his career he has scored two rushing touchdowns in a game. Ross is also the first Maryland running back to score two rushing touchdowns this season. At the end of the first quarter, Maryland took a 7-6 lead on a four-play, 74-yard drive in which Ross accounted for all the yardage.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After the onslaught was over, Jameis Winston relaxed in a folding chair in front of a throng of reporters eager to sing his praises yet again.

Florida State's quarterback had been dazzling, throwing five touchdown passes in a 63-0 victory over No. 25 Maryland, and one of his inquisitors pushed him on the offensive juggernaut. Winston wouldn't take the bait.

"The defense was clicking," he said.

He was pressed again on the offense.

"No," Winston said. "The defense kept giving us the ball."

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTelvin Smith (22) and the Seminoles held Maryland to 33 rushing yards.
Winston was superb, no doubt. He completed 23-of-32 passes for 393 yards and his day was done before the fourth quarter began. He's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in all three of his ACC games.

But Winston was right to turn the spotlight back to the defense. For a Florida State team already eminently aware of its quarterback's potential, it was the shutout pitched by the maligned defense that was the day's revelation, and it comes at an ideal time.

A week earlier, Florida State looked dazed against a mundane Boston College power-running game. For just the third time since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, the defense allowed 200 rushing yards. After just four games in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's new defensive scheme, patience was wearing thin.

"Who wouldn't doubt us, based on how we performed in the previous week?" defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel asked. "As a team, as a defense, we knew we had to come out and dominate."

On Saturday, everything clicked.

As impressive as Winston's performance was, the defensive statistics were every bit as staggering.

Maryland entered the game averaging 227 rushing yards. The Terrapins managed just 33 on 25 carries Saturday.

The Terps' offense had topped 500 yards in three of four games this year. They tallied less than half that against Florida State.

Maryland was a woeful 2-of-15 on third down, mustered just nine first downs in the game and was shut out for the first time since 2008.

"We went out there and said, 'We're going to dominate,'" linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We didn't say we want to or we can. We said we were going to, and that's what we went out there and did."

C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Ross had been among the most productive offensive trios in the ACC this season. Only Ross finished the game healthy, and his final line included three rushes for minus-1 yard.

Brown was sandwiched between Christian Jones and McDaniel on a pass in the second quarter. He was taken for X-rays and didn't return. Diggs was smacked on an incomplete pass near midfield in the third quarter on his final play of the day.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall was displeased with the hit that ended Brown's game, but Florida State chalked it up as part of a punishingly physical approach.

"In practice, you heard pads every day -- even when we just had on shorts and shoulder pads," Smith said. "We were out there hitting. That showed up in the game."

The fallout from the Boston College game stung, but it was also a necessary wake-up call, McDaniel said. The defense assembled in the film room last Monday and relived the carnage, then set about finding solutions.

Fisher said it was clear his team hadn't been prepared for Boston College, but the energy on the practice field was noticeable. That carried over to Saturday's thrashing of the Terps.

"They played with urgency," Fisher said. "They stopped the run, took on blocks and our eye discipline was excellent. And this team was harder to [defend] than [Boston College]."

The key now is maintaining that level of discipline through a two-week wait before heading to No. 3 Clemson for a showdown that figures to determine the ACC's Atlantic Division champion.

If Saturday represented how good Florida State could be when Winston is in a groove and the defense is angry, there is reason for excitement.

"Everybody told us, 'Don't look forward to the Clemson game,'" Winston said. "But the time is here, and we've got to get everything right."

ACC Upset Watch: Week 6

October, 1, 2013
Both teams on our Upset Watch lost last week. Are there more upsets on the horizon in Week 6? Let us take a look at the teams that could face problems. Remember, these are not predictions. They are just guesses at which contests might offer the biggest surprises.

1. Ball State at Virginia. Given the way the Hoos have played on offense this season, there are no guaranteed wins. Ball State has the much better offense, having scored scored 200 points already -- the most in school history through the first five games of a season. Keith Wenning is one of two FBS quarterbacks to pass for 300 or more yards in each game so far, and Willie Snead ranks No. 3 in the nation in receiving yards with 611. Virginia, meanwhile, has produced stingy efforts in back-to-back games, holding VMI and Pitt to less than 200 yards of offense. UVa hasn’t done that in consecutive games since 1972. The passing defense has been solid, too -- UVa ranks No. 8 nationally in passing yards allowed (152.8) and No. 4 in team passing efficiency defense (82.84). So this leads to two questions -- can the Virginia defense shut down the Ball State offense? And will the Hoos be able to score more than a handful of points?

2. Georgia Tech at No. 14 Miami. Yes, we know Georgia Tech did not look great on offense in a 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech last week. Yes, we know Miami has won four straight in the series, too. But the reason we are waving a red flag here is because Miami has not played its starters for a full game since beating Florida, back on Sept. 7. In the ensuing weeks, the Hurricanes had a bye, then FCS pushover Savannah State and then FBS pushover USF. Stephen Morris is nursing a sore ankle, too. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has had a crush of tough Coastal Division games the past three weeks and has been more recently tested. Say this about Georgia Tech -- its defense is much improved over from last season and should keep the Jackets in the game. The good news for the Jackets' offense is the Miami D is not quite as good as what they saw out of Virginia Tech. Even still, Miami is better defensively, too. How the Georgia Tech offense responds is the key to this game.

3. No. 25 Maryland at No. 8 Florida State. As Heather pointed out Monday, we really have no idea whether the Terps are for real. We do know they have never won in Tallahassee, which gives Florida State a big advantage right off the bat. But the Noles struggled last week to contain the run, and Maryland is much better running the ball this season. Maryland is averaging 226.8 yards on the ground thanks to the combined efforts of running back Brandon Ross (No. 4 in ACC in rushing) and quarterback C.J. Brown (No. 8 in ACC in rushing). Florida State, meanwhile, ranks an uncharacteristic No. 62 in rushing defense, its worst ranking since 2009. Coach Jimbo Fisher defended the performance of his defensive unit this week, but there's no question its performance against Boston College have left folks wondering whether the Noles are ripe for an upset.

4. No. 3 Clemson at Syracuse. We can hear Clemson fans complaining about how the Tigers always seem to be on this list. In Week 1, we had 'em on there because we believed they would upset Georgia (and they did). We had them on there against NC State, and the game ended up being too close for comfort. And now we have them on here this week for three main reasons. First, Clemson has never played in the Carrier Dome, a notoriously tricky place for visitors. Second, Syracuse has upset teams with top-shelf quarterbacks three years running (West Virginia and Geno Smith in 2010 and 2011; Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater in 2012). Third, Clemson was not great the last time it hit the road. So for those reasons, the Tigers have to be mindful of getting upset. Now, having said all that, we believe an upset in this game is the least likely out of all the contests listed.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown can remember lying in his bed one day last year, immobilized with his knee in a brace from a season-ending ACL tear, yelling to his roommates for help.

“They all came running down because they thought something was wrong,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Can I have some water?’”

Over the past year, Brown has made the remarkable transition from relying on his teammates for the most trivial of tasks to being the one they’re all depending on.

Brown’s recovery and return to the starting lineup has been unique because the Terps have been so desperate for a leader under center, and Brown has had to overcome two-season ending injuries to finally fill that role. Even more remarkable, he’s doing it as well as just about anyone in the country. At 22, the bearded Brown is in grad school and in his first season as a full-time starter. Not only has Brown’s mere presence given the entire offense a much-needed boost of confidence, but his play has him ranked No. 3 in the country in QBR heading into Saturday’s game against Connecticut.

Maryland’s misfortune at quarterback is now one of its biggest strengths.

[+] Enlarge C.J. Brown
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireAfter missing last season with an ACL injury, Maryland QB C.J. Brown is completing 75.6 percent of his passes.
“C.J. is a young man who has had tremendous confidence in his own ability through his hard work and preparation, and what happens is, the people around him see how he handles himself, how he goes about his business,” said coach Randy Edsall, who called Brown the “old man” on the team. “I think it brings a sense of calmness, a sense of confidence to everybody else. And then to have him perform at the rate he’s been performing also brings a tremendous amount of confidence. It just seems like the game is very slow for him. He’s got everything under control. He’s operating at a level that is outstanding, just very smooth. Hopefully that will continue.”

The Terps are 2-0, and have a legitimate shot at heading into conference play 4-0 if they can beat struggling Connecticut and West Virginia teams. UConn lost to Towson, and the Mountaineers will have to play the Terps at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Aside from having healthy quarterbacks, one of the biggest differences has been the amount of playmakers surrounding Brown. Standout receiver Stefon Diggs is hardly his only option, as receivers Nigel King, Deon Long, and running back Brandon Ross have helped open the playbook.

Simply having Brown standing on his own two feet, though, is a major improvement after last year.

Maryland’s quarterback situation was so dire in 2012 that the Terps had to depend on Shawn Petty, a scout team linebacker-turned fifth-string quarterback to lead the offense. Four quarterbacks, including Brown, suffered season-ending injuries.

“It was unbelievable, especially to be in that [QB] meeting room,” Brown said. “No one wanted to come in that room. It was like a curse.”

One which has finally been lifted.

Brown has completed 75.6 percent of his passes (34-of-45) for 556 yards and five touchdowns, and he has also run for four touchdowns in two games. He has also accounted for an average of 345.5 yards of total offense, tops in the ACC and 13th nationally. Brown only threw three incomplete passes in the season opener against FIU, setting a school single-game record for completion percentage (20-of-23).

Not bad considering he has spent more time healing than playing.

Brown redshirted in 2009 before playing in one game in 2010, when he fractured his right shoulder and missed the final 11 games of the season. He will have eligibility in 2014, thanks to a sixth year of eligibility he was granted in April.

But it’s this season has his full attention.

“It’s very important, especially with all of the work I’ve had to put in, and the preparation and to be let down, and then to come back, it’s just been a roller coaster,” he said. “That’s how I describe the ups and downs and hills and valleys. It’s been tough, but I’m here right now, we’re having success, and all of the hard work seems to be paying off right now. That’s where my mindset it. I’m really happy for the opportunity and trying to take advantage of it.”

So are his teammates.

“It’s one thing to believe in someone -- like, last year we always believed that when C.J. came back he would be great -- and it’s one thing to be confident in him, but it’s another thing to have that actual physical presence there,” guard De’Onte Arnett said. “It’s a great boost. C.J. plays with a confidence, and a cool, calm and collectedness that we struggled to get last year. The offensive line, we tried to boost up the quarterbacks and let them know that we believe in them, but it’s another thing to know that your quarterback has your back definitely. It’s a great feeling.”

Brown has been cleared since May, and he was able to fully participate in all of summer camp, but he said it has taken him some time to get reacquainted with reading coverages, and adjusting to defenses in the second half.

Edsall said Brown is playing like he has something to prove, and Brown agreed.

“When you take a year off, you’re a year older, people think you lost a step, especially with the ACL injury, but you see it in the pros all the time now with Adrian Peterson, RGIII, guys are coming back better than ever,” Brown said. “I put a lot of time and hard work in the offseason to go out there and have success and just enjoy the opportunity. The last year I was able to step back from the game and it really puts it into perspective how you look at the game and how much you appreciate it.”

Almost as much as the Terps appreciate having him back in the lineup.

ACC's second tier still a mixed bag

September, 11, 2013
When Saturday's game ended, NC State coach Dave Doeren had little choice but to be relieved.

The Wolfpack survived a gritty game from FCS foe Richmond, needing a final-minute field goal to snatch away a win after a mistake-prone performance. Doeren's substitute quarterback struggled, but Pete Thomas engineered a drive when he needed it. Doeren's team hardly impressed, but still, it's undefeated. The immense transition the program has undergone the past nine months didn't end when the season began, and now NC State's biggest game of the season awaits.

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
Lance King/Getty ImagesDave Doeren and NC State are 2-0, but they face their biggest test on Sept. 19 versus Clemson.
"I told our guys I'm proud of them," Doeren said after Saturday's win over Richmond. "We made a lot of plays, and we made a lot of mistakes, too."

And so it goes for virtually the entire second tier of the ACC through the first two weeks of the season. Clemson knocked off Georgia, Miami thwarted Florida, and Florida State appears to have found its next superstar quarterback. But continue down the conference's depth chart, and it's hard to know what to make of the middle of the pack.

Is NC State a team rejuvenated by a new coaching staff, simply waiting on its injured starting QB to return before it makes a run at a fourth straight bowl appearance?

Or what about Duke? The Blue Devils have started 2-0 as well, but they lost their starting quarterback to a broken collarbone last week, too.

Maryland has a healthy quarterback at long last, and C.J. Brown has turned in consecutive games as productive as any player in the country. His 97.3 Total QBR is tied for second-best in the nation, and he's already accounted for nine touchdowns. Of course, the level of competition has hardly been stiff, and the Terrapins still have plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball.

Then there's North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Both figured to hover near the top of the ACC standings, but were thumped by ranked SEC opponents in Week 1. The Tar Heels and Hokies managed easy wins Saturday against second-tier competition, but it's clear there are some flaws in both programs' games.

Pittsburgh was thumped by Jameis Winston and Florida State in its opener, but the Panthers still have a few playmakers to work with and a more manageable schedule moving forward. Virginia picked up the league's third-best win of the early season when its defense carried it past BYU, only to get smoked by Oregon a week later. Georgia Tech rolled through Week 1 against overmatched Elon, but coach Paul Johnson admits few questions were answered, while lowly Boston College, the cellar dweller of 2012, has shown signs of life under new coach Steve Addazio, already matching last season's win total after beating Wake Forest last week.

Clemson and Miami made a statement for the conference by knocking off two heavyweights from the SEC. But in the other five games ACC teams played against teams from top-tier leagues, they went winless, doing little to establish a clear pecking order for a league that features nine teams that won between five and eight games a season ago.

There's a cache with having strength at the top of the league, and the ACC now has three teams ranked in the top-15 of the AP poll. But where the SEC still separates itself is with depth, including seven teams ranked in this week's Top 25. The next closest contender in the ACC is Virginia Tech, a team that failed to complete a passing play longer than 19 yards against an FCS opponent last week, which earned 15 votes in this week's poll -- good for 31st overall.

That's not to say the middle of the ACC's pack isn't without a potential contender.

The Hokies' defense thwarted Alabama in Week 1, sending the fans of the two-time defending national champs into a frenzy. As bad as Virginia looked against Oregon, the Cavaliers certainly earned a bit of extra credit when the team they shut down BYU in Week 1. The Cougars went on to rack up nearly 700 yards of offense in its next game against Texas. With USC struggling, Boston College could potentially run its record to 3-0 this week. Maryland's offense appears stacked with playmakers in Brown, receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Brandon Ross. UNC may have the second-most stable, established quarterback situation in the league.

But for all the potential, there remains numerous questions when trying to define any real order to the chaos beyond the ACC's big three.

Answers will come in time. Duke and Georgia Tech face off this week. NC State gets a look at Clemson in Week 4. Maryland and Boston College each have more challenging nonconference tests upcoming.

In the meantime, however, assessing the state of the league is a lot like Doeren's assessment of his own team. They've made some plays, and they've made some mistakes. But for now at least, the ACC is feeling plenty of pride.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
Week 2 is in the books. Here are the ACC's top performers:

Miami's defense: Linebacker Denzel Perryman recorded 13 tackles and forced a fumble, and Tyriq McCord sacked Jeff Driskel late in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble that proved the difference in the game. In all, Miami forced three fumbles, picked off two passes, sacked Driskel twice and held Florida to 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. Not bad for a group that ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing defense a year ago.

Boston College running back Andre Williams: The senior carried the ball a whopping 35 times en route to 204 yards rushing and a touchdown in a win over Wake Forest. It was Williams' second 100-yard performance of the season. Williams carried the ball eight straight times on BC's final drive, running the last five minutes off the clock and helping the Eagles to match their win total from 2012 after just two games.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown: No, Brown didn't quite repeat his impressive Week 1 performance against Florida International, but he came close. The senior threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran four times and scored twice more versus Old Dominion. Through two games, Brown has already collected nine touchdowns. A year ago, no Maryland QB accounted for more than 11 touchdowns all season. More good news for Maryland: Brown wasn't the only playmaker. Stefon Diggs racked up a career-best 179 yards receiving, and Brandon Ross ran for 149 yards and a score.

Duke quarterback Brandon Connette: Starter Anthony Boone went down with a broken collarbone in the second quarter, but that didn't doom Duke's chances at its first 2-0 start since 1998. Connette, a junior with just 45 career passing attempts entering the game, came on to rally the Blue Devils' offense. For the game, he completed 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help Duke to a 28-14 win over Memphis.

NC State's two-minute offense: In what was hardly a vintage performance for the Wolfpack against FCS foe Richmond, the two-minute drill to end the game worked to perfection, capped by kicker Niklas Sade's 48-yard, game-winning field goal with 33 seconds remaining. NC State trailed 21-13 at the half but forced a turnover deep in Richmond territory to set up a third-quarter touchdown, then drove the ball 48 yards on seven plays in the final two minutes of action, setting up Sade's game winner, which cleared the goal post with ease. QB Pete Thomas was 4-of-5 for 31 yards passing on the drive.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 28, 2013
I have a dream.

Maryland season preview

August, 16, 2013
Today we’re taking a look at Maryland as the Terps enter their final season in the ACC:

Maryland Terrapins

Coach: Randy Edsall (80-88 overall, 6-18 at Maryland)

2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 in ACC

Key losses: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg, G Bennett Fulper, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate, S Eric Franklin, LB Darin Drakeford

[+] EnlargeStefon Diggs
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsThere's no doubt that Maryland WR Stefon Diggs has the talent. He just needs to stay healthy to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Key returnees: QB C.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, TB Brandon Ross, CB Dexter McDougle, LB Cole Farrand

Newcomer to watch: WR Deon Long. Expectations are high for the transfer after a record-setting season at Iowa Western Community College, where he became the first player in NJCAA history to catch 100 passes in a season. Long finished his sophomore season with 100 receptions for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns, leading the NJCAA in all three categories. He earned first team All-America honors, while leading Iowa Western to a national championship. If he’s as good as advertised, Long should help take some defensive pressure off teammate Stefon Diggs.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 at Florida State, Oct. 26 vs. Clemson, Oct. 12 vs. Virginia.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How the defense will replace seven starters. Not only did Maryland’s defense feature some of its best athletes last fall, but many of those players were the team’s most outspoken leaders, too. The Terps are rebuilding their defense after losing six starters from last season’s roster, including mainstays on the defensive line Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and all three starting linebackers. Offensively, the Terps finally seem to have more pieces in place to succeed. This season, it could be the defense that has to catch up.

Forecast: Edsall said he expects some heckling this fall as he takes his team on its final tour of the ACC before joining the Big Ten. The question is whether the Terps can get the last word by becoming a factor in the Atlantic Division race. Maryland, like everyone else in the division, is looking up at FSU and Clemson. But with a favorable nonconference schedule, it’s very possible the Terps head to Tallahassee on Oct. 5 with a respectable 3-1 record and some momentum from nonconference play. With winnable games against FIU, Old Dominion and Connecticut, Maryland could be halfway back to bowl eligibility before the start of conference play. It will certainly help to have a few healthy quarterbacks this year, but the Terps will also benefit from a stronger supporting cast of playmakers. Maryland has more options at receiver, and an improved offensive line returns three starters. And don’t forget that Maryland has one of the ACC’s most explosive receivers and kick returners in Diggs, who ranked eighth nationally last year with 172.36 all-purpose yards. With the exception of the first two games of the season and back-to-back home games against Clemson and Syracuse, Maryland will play every other game on the road this fall. The key to bowl eligibility will actually be winning at home: against FIU, Old Dominion, Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College. The Terps have to protect their turf, because stealing more than one on the road is going to be difficult.
You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.


  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.

Wes Brown suspended for season

August, 2, 2013
Maryland running back Wes Brown has been suspended for the 2013 season, the school announced Friday.

"We support the University of Maryland’s decision,” Head Coach Randy Edsall said. “I have spoken with Wes. He accepts the sanctions and understands what is expected of him moving forward."

Brown was suspended indefinitely last month after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. Earlier this week, prosecutors announced they would drop the charges against Brown because they believed he was resisting an unlawful arrest. A Baltimore Police spokesman told The Associated Press that Brown remained a suspect in a shooting in Baltimore in June. Brown's attorney maintains his client had no involvement in the shooting.

Brandon Ross and Albert Reid are expected to carry the load for the Terps this season.
This past spring, Maryland’s running backs were a highlight.

The recent suspension of Wes Brown -- last year’s second-leading rusher -- doesn’t change that, as Brown didn’t participate this spring because he was recovering from two surgeries. It does weaken the overall group, but it won’t diminish Maryland’s chances of getting to a bowl game this year. It’s not clear how long Brown will be suspended, as the investigation is still ongoing, but Maryland is deep enough at the position that it could survive without its most talented back if need be.

Even if Brown weren’t suspended, odds are Brandon Ross and Albert Reid would have had a leg up on the competition because they were so impressive this spring, along with redshirt freshman Joe Riddle. In the spring game, both Ross and Reid ran for over 100 yards. Ross, who was praised by coach Randy Edsall this spring for his ability to run inside or outside, had 123 yards on 10 carries, while Reid had 138 yards on 23 carries in the spring game. Ross came on strong toward the end of the season, as he had at least 100 rushing yards in two of the final three games.

In early April, all three of the running backs scored in a scrimmage -- a sign of much-needed improvement. All three were listed as co-starters on the depth chart heading into summer camp, but if Ross picks up where he left off, he could steal the spotlight. Ross last year led the team in rushing with 390 yards and Reid had 92, as Maryland had one of the worst running games in the country.

Don’t forget, though, that the Terps were counting on a backup linebacker as their starting quarterback. If Maryland can actually pass the ball this year (and it should be able to, with the return of C.J. Brown), the Terps won’t have to be so predictable and one-dimensional. Last year, Maryland’s running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game.

While Brown’s suspension will hurt the team’s depth, it shouldn’t hurt Maryland’s chances of improving those numbers.
2012 record: 4-8

2012 conference record: 2-6 (fifth place in Atlantic Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:

QB C.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, TB Brandon Ross, CB Dexter McDougle, LB Cole Farrand

Key losses:

WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg, G Bennett Fulper, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate, S Eric Franklin, LB Darin Drakeford

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ross* (390 yards)

Passing: Perry Hills* (1, 336)

Receiving: Diggs* (848)

Tackles: Hartsfield/Farrand* (78)

Sacks: Vellano/Drakeford (6)

Interceptions: Four players with one each (Hartsfield, Vellano, Anthony Nixon*, Matt Robinson*)

Spring answers:

1. The running game is improving. The Terps’ running backs were a highlight this spring, as Ross, Albert Reid and Joe Riddle each had their moments -- and that was without Wes Brown, who sat out this spring with injuries. Coach Randy Edsall said one of the biggest differences was the increased competition among the group. It was a welcome change, as the running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game last year.

2. Healthy quarterbacks. Finally, the Terps have healed. C.J. Brown, Hills and Caleb Rowe, each who missed all or part of last season with a torn ACL, are expected to be cleared to participate in fall camp. Brown was back atop the post-spring depth chart, and former fifth-string quarterback, Shawn Petty, is back at his original position of linebacker.

3. The receivers should be a strength. Diggs is back, and he should again be one of the best players in the ACC this year, but it’s not a one-man show. The Terps are loaded at receiver with Diggs, Deon Long, Nigel King, Marcus Leak and others. Long is facing high expectations after his record-setting junior college season at Iowa Western, and Diggs is coming off an impressive performance as a true freshman in which he made a push for ACC Rookie of the Year.

Fall questions:

1. Rusty quarterbacks. Not only has Brown not played since 2011, but he has yet to be a full-time starter. That season, he was in the midst of a quarterback controversy with Danny O’Brien, who later transferred to Wisconsin. Brown has proven he can run, but will he have the arm strength and accuracy to make use of all of the talent at wide receiver? And will he have the time to throw it?

2. The offensive line. The Terps have three returning starters in Mike Madaras, De’Onte Arnett and Sal Conaboy, but Edsall said finding an eight- to 10-man rotation remains a priority heading into the summer. Maryland also still needs to replace Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert, who combined for 36 career starts, and the group's depth is a concern.

3. New faces on defense. Maryland has to replace six starters on defense, but it’s not just their playmaking abilities that will be missed, it’s also the leadership of guys like A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, who became the faces of the program. There is only one returning starter on the defensive line, but the group did find some depth with Andre Monroe and Roman Braglio locking up the No. 2 spots at defensive end.



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