ACC: Cullen Harper

Jury still out on Clemson's offense

September, 8, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

It was the heart of Clemson’s problems last year -- so much so that former offensive coordinator Rob Spence was fired, the offensive line took most of the heat, former quarterback Cullen Harper was benched in favor of Willy Korn, and a team loaded with speed and talent baffled anyone who watched with its ineptitude.

As the Tigers head into Thursday night’s game at Georgia Tech -- the ACC’s marquee matchup of the week -- they do so still having something to prove offensively under first-year coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney. First-year starting quarterback Kyle Parker, who showed his potential in Saturday’s 37-14 win over Middle Tennessee, will face one of the better secondaries in the conference, as the Jackets are led by safety Morgan Burnett, and a linebacking corps that is more experienced and healthier than it was a year ago.

“I think our secondary is pretty good, and our guys have to go against them in practice every day, so they’ve been matched up with good guys before,” Parker said. “They’re definitely going to have to play lights-out to be successful, but I think they’ve seen the caliber athletes we’ll be matched up against.”

Parker completed 9 of 20 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers left a lot of plays on the field in the process. There were several dropped balls, including two wide-open passes to top receiver Jacoby Ford. And while the receiving corps is no doubt talented, its consistency has been in question since summer camp. Injury-prone running back C.J. Spiller left the game early with a minor foot injury, leaving some to wonder if he really can carry the offensive load by himself. And, finally, just how much better is Clemson’s offensive line, which returns all five starters from a year ago?

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Parker said. “We’re just going to go out and work on it. We kind of limited ourselves and we made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t think it’s anything too big to worry about. I think our guys will get better.”

The Tigers were 4-of-14 on third-down conversions, lost a fumble and threw an interception. And Parker said there were a few times he could’ve gone somewhere else with the ball, but he’s convinced he and his receivers will get better with time.

“I think the chemistry is pretty good. In the game Saturday they dropped some balls early on, but you could definitely tell they were getting better and they made some plays later on in the game,” Parker said. “I think they’ll get better every time they go out there and get experience.”

Thursday night’s game will reveal a lot about how far the Tigers have come under the new staff, and how much more experience is needed.

Clemson spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Clemson Tigers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: Offense: 7, defense: 8, punter/kicker: 0

Top returners

WR Jacoby Ford, RB C.J. Spiller, OG Thomas Austin, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, DE Ricky Sapp, LB Kavell Conner

Key losses

WR Aaron Kelly, QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, WR Tyler Grisham, S Michael Hamlin, S Chris Clemons, PK Mark Buchholz, P Jimmy Maners, NG Darell Scott

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: James Davis (791 yards)
Passing: Cullen Harper (2,601 yards)
Receiving: Aaron Kelly (722 yards)
Tackles: LB Kavell Conner* (125)
Sacks: LB Brandon Maye*, DT Jarvis Jenkins*, DE Ricky Sapp* and DT Rashaad Jackson (2 each)
Interceptions: Michael Hamlin (6)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 10 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 19 Boston College
Sept. 26 Central Michigan
Oct. 3 at Maryland
Oct. 10 OPEN
Oct. 17 Wake Forest
Oct. 24 at Miami
Oct. 31 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 7 Florida State
Nov. 14 at NC State
Nov. 21 Virginia
Nov. 28 at South Carolina

1. Starting QB: Kyle Parker has proved to be a remarkable athlete in his first spring competing for the starting quarterback job. He's proved capable of leading both the Tigers' offense on the football field and the baseball field. He was the better of the two quarterbacks. That doesn't mean he'll be the starter, but it does give Dabo Swinney confidence in the option.

2. A new 'D': First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was a great hire, and Clemson's defense will be more aggressive. It hasn't been broken the last four years under Vic Koenning, but Steele will look to sack the quarterback more, and play more man coverage in the secondary, which Butler and Chancellor like.

3. A better O-line: The offensive line will be much better. Clemson ran the ball well this spring without Spiller, who, along with Jacoby Ford was also running track and not allowed to be tackled this spring for fear of getting them hurt. Thomas Austin is a leader and former center who will play guard and Mason Cloy seems comfortable now at center.

Fall questions

1. No. 2 receiver: There's no clear-cut receiver for the No. 2 spot behind Ford, who wasn't around much this spring because of track. There were numerous dropped balls early in the spring, but there was also some improvement. Xavier Dye has the potential to step in and was Korn's teammate for half a year. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Ford and Jaron Brown are also candidates.

2. Parker vs. Korn: Swinney is not being coy when he says Kyle Parker and Willy Korn are "co-No. 1s" going into August camp. The one thing that can't be accurately evaluated in the spring is how well the quarterbacks can run, which is something they'll have to do more in this system. But the quarterbacks can't be tackled in the scrimmages. Korn is the better runner, but Parker was the better quarterback this spring.

3. Safety: The Tigers are still looking to name two starting safeties. DeAndre McDaniel was moved from linebacker to safety, and hasn't played it before. Sadat Chambers, who had 21 tackles on second-string last year, will continue to compete with Carlton Lewis and Rashard Hall this summer.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 30, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Spring ball is over. The links are not: 

Miami forward Jimmy Graham confirmed to the Miami Herald that he will join Randy Shannon's team next season. 

What is going on with former Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper? Hanging up on reporters, disputing it, trying to find an NFL team? Columbia State reporter Paul Strelow managed to squeeze this little tidbit out of Harper -- he's heading to Buffalo.

Harper isn't the only ACC quarterback still living the dream. Remember Drew Weatherford? (Seems like a century ago, doesn't it?) Well, he's working out for the Chicago Bears this weekend.

Here's an update on a few undrafted FSU players who were signed as free agents, according to Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 25, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Franklin Street is a fitting place to be reading the ACC papers, don't you think? I met with UNC coach Butch Davis this morning, and have a couple of interviews before heading to practice this afternoon. Until then ... here's what's going on in ACC country:

  • Speaking of UNC, the Tar Heels are putting an emphasis on finding some receivers this spring, but they've already found one in Greg Little.
  • The NCAA is wondering "what gives" when it comes to hiring veteran assistants as graduate assistants, like former Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh's new gig at Alabama.
  • Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin will receive $1 million if he's not named the head coach when Ralph Friedgen decides to call it quits. The Terps started spring practice on Tuesday, and they're counting on Adrian Moten to help usher the young linebackers along.
  • The Demon Deacons started practice Tuesday and one of their priorities is filling the holes on defense.
  • Florida State picked up another commitment for the 2010 class.
  • Former Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper is still answering questions about the statement he made last year that former coach Tommy Bowden "got what he deserved," only this time, NFL scouts are asking the questions.
  • NC State halfback Toney Baker can run and fish.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

As we head into spring football, there will be plenty of starting jobs up for grabs. It's no secret UNC needs to find dependable receivers, and Georgia Tech needs to replace three of four starters on its defensive line. Will FSU quarterback Christian Ponder keep his job, or will E.J. Manuel win it from him? Despite several quarterbacks returning with starting experience, spring could bring change throughout the ACC. Here's a look at five key position battles to keep an eye on:

Clemson quarterback -- Will Kyle Parker assert himself as the Tigers' quarterback of the future this spring, or will Willy Korn lock up the starting job? Korn played in six games last year and started one, but he has been plagued by a nagging shoulder injury. Michael Wade and Jon Richt (Georgia coach Mark Richt's son) will also compete to take over as Cullen Harper's successor.

Boston College quarterback -- Considering how Dominique Davis struggled in losses in the ACC championship game and the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (he combined to throw three touchdowns, four interceptions and complete 40.5 percent of his passes), nothing is guaranteed. The previous coaching staff had high hopes for Justin Tuggle, and this spring is a chance for him to show Frank Spaziani and Co. why.

Virginia quarterback -- With cornerback Vic Hall working out at quarterback this spring, and two players returning with starting experience in Marc Verica and Jameel Sewell, this spot appears to be wide open. Hall was the Cavaliers' fifth-leading tackler last year (the top four have to be replaced), and made 24 straight starts at cornerback before his surprise appearance at quarterback in the season finale at Virginia Tech. Hall only threw the ball once against the Hokies but scored on 40 and 16-yard runs.

Virginia Tech linebackers -- The Hokies will have to replace Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant. Barquell Rivers, who started for the injured Warren in the Orange Bowl, should be a frontrunner, but Cam Martin and Cody Grimm are also experienced returners at outside linebacker. It's also possible some players in the secondary could get a look.

Duke cornerback -- Returning starter Leon Wright missed the last six games due to injury, and while he was out, Chris Rwabukamba played well in the 10-7 win over Vanderbilt, grabbing an interception at the Duke one-yard line. He started two games. Lee Butler saw playing time as a freshman last year, and Zach Greene enrolled in January and will participate in spring practice so he'll get an opportunity, too.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 11, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

With Miami kicking off spring practice on Feb. 24, it's never too early to start thinking about spring football in the ACC. There are plenty of story lines heading into the 2009 season -- like backup quarterbacks and new coordinators.

Here are a few things to watch for each team in the ACC this spring:


Spring practice starts:
March 17
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • Replacing 325-pound defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will be a large challenge -- literally. Damik Scafe could be a starter, but beyond him it's anybody's guess.
  • Quarterback Dominique Davis only has three games of experience over everyone else, so it's definitely not a given that it's his job to lose. Davis was thrown into the fire at the end of 2008, but former coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former offensive coordinator Steve Logan liked freshman Justin Tuggle, who redshirted this past season. Whether the new staff is as high on Tuggle remains to be seen.
  • Including former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was promoted to head coach, the Eagles will have six coaches in new positions this spring. With two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and a linebackers coach, this spring will be a chance for a few introductions.

(Read full post)


Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Tech Hokies, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina Tar Heels, Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Coastal Division, Atlantic Division, Miami Hurricanes, Jermaine Thomas, Greg Little, Greg Boone, Eron Riley, Paul Johnson, Damian Thornton, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Toddrick Verdell, Vince Williams, Barquell RIvers, Miami Hurricanes, Mike Groh, Justin Tuggle, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Kyle Parker, Dan Voss, Brandon tate, Frank Beamer, Trimane Goddard, Aaron Clark, Logan Thomas, Chris turner, Myron Rolle, Cullen Harper, Willy Korn, Demetrius Hartsfield, Brad Lambert, Cannon Smith, Jamarr Robinson, Robert Marve, Mike Glennon, Nigel Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Jon Richt, Adrian Moten, David Cutcliffe, Stephen St. John, Butch Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Tavares Pressley, Duke Blue Devils, Lamar Young, Chris DeGeare, Derek Nicholson, Kevin Harrison, Rashad Carmichael, T.J. Barnes, Josh Portis, Sean Renfree, Carlton Jones, Brett Warren, Nigel Bradham, Darren CHilds, Andre Brown, Edwin Williams, Jeremy Gray, Purnell Sturdivant, Ron Brace, Dominique Davis, Johnny Williams, MIchael Tauiliili, Brandon Flowers, Jacory Harris, Anthony Allen, Trent Mackey, Virginia Tech Hokies, Cody Grimm, Gregg Brandon, Derrick Morgan, Vincent Rey, Virginia Cavaliers, Toney Baker, Antone Smith, spring primer 0902, Tyler Grisham, Clint Sintim, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Victor 'Macho' Harris, Jonathan Dwyer, J.C. Neal, Maryland Terrapins, Coastal Division, B.J. Raji, Clem Johnson, Atlantic Division, Antonio Appleby, Jacoby Ford, Jameel Sewell, Mark Paschal, Frank Spaziani, Tony Carter, Quan Sturdivant, Damik Scafe, Steve Logan, Bruce Johnson, Antone Exum, Taylor Cook, Boston College Eagles, Cam Martin, Brooks Foster, Dabo Swinney, Austin Kelly, Darius McClure, Michael Wade, Mark Richt, Aaron Kelly, Jeff Jagodzinski, Thaddeus Lewis, Clemson Tigers, Anthony Reddick, Aaron Curry, C.J. Spiller, Alphonso Smith, Jon Copper, Stephan Virgil, Tyler Bowen, Ben Anderson, Alex Wujciak, Zack Asack, Justin Lewis, D\'Vontrey Richardson, Da\'Norris Searcy

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 3, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

The official invitation list for the NFL scouting combine is out, and there are plenty of ACC players who will participate in the four-day job interview in Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24. Just because a player didn't make the list doesn't mean he won't be drafted, but here are the ACC players by school who were invited to the combine:


Kevin Akins, cornerback/linebacker

Ron Brace, defensive tackle

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle


Chris Clemons, safety

James Davis, running back

Michael Hamlin, safety

Cullen Harper, quarterback

Aaron Kelly, receiver

Dorell Scott, defensive tackle


Everette Brown, defensive end

Graham Gano, punter/placekicker


Andrew Gardner, offensive tackle

Michael Johnson, defensive end

Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Vance Walker, defensive tackle

Jahi Word-Daniels, cornerback


Kevin Barnes, cornerback

Moise Fokou, outside linebacker

Dan Gronkowski, tight end

Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver

Jaimie Thomas, offensive guard

Edwin Williams, center


Bruce Johnson, cornerback


Brooks Foster, wide receiver

Hakeem Nicks, wide recevier

Richard Quinn, tight end

Garrett Reynolds, offensive tackle

Brandon Tate, wide receiver


Andre Brown, running back

Anthony Hill, tight end


Eugene Monroe, offensive tackle

Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver

Cedric Peerman, tailback

John Phillips, tight end

Clint Sintim, linebacker


Victor "Macho" Harris, cornerback

Orion Martin, defensive end


Stanley Arnoux, linebacker

Aaron Curry, linebacker

Alphonso Smith, cornerback

Sam Swank, punter/placekicker

Chip Vaughn, safety

Weekend rewind: Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

For those of you who missed the Under Armour Senior Bowl this past weekend, here's a quick look at how some of the ACC players fared:

Virginia tailback Cedric Peerman: Led the North team with five carries for 34 yards, and had a fumble

NC State running back Andre Brown: 10 carries, 31 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run; caught two passes for 41 yards. Led South team with 72 all-purpose yards.

Clemson running back James Davis: Nine carries, 32 yards

Florida State running back Antone Smith: Two carries, 7 yards

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper: Completed 2 of 5 passes for 44 yards (one was 32 yards long) and made one tackle

FSU receiver Greg Carr: Caught one pass for 9 yards

Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim: Five unassisted, one assisted tackle (fourth on the North team). Had one tackle for a loss of 2 yards.

Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace: Two assisted tackles

Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji: One unassisted tackle

Clemson safety Michael Hamlin: Four unassisted, one assisted tackle

Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn: Two tackles

Virginia Tech corner back Victor "Macho" Harris: One punt return for 10 yards

Peerman, Brown, Raji, Harris, Vaughn and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith were all starters.

Best of luck to these guys and the other ACC seniors in this year's class, whether their next step is on the field or off.

ACC's most overrated of 2008

January, 19, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Here is a look at the ACC's most overrated of 2008:

MOST OVERRATED PLAYER: Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper. He was picked as the preseason Player of the Year and the first-team quarterback. He was benched, won his job back, and finished as the ACC's leading passer, but was too inconsistent, didn't always make smart decisions and didn't earn first OR second team all-conference honors.

MOST OVERRATED COACH: In all fairness, I don't think there WAS an overrated coach or coordinator in the ACC. In fact, I think the coaches in the ACC did some of their best jobs this season. You could argue that former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was overrated this season, but so was his team. And the coordinators who are no longer in the league certainly weren't overrated, but I would argue Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning falls into the underrated category.

(SECOND) MOST OVERRATED TEAM: North Carolina. The Tar Heels were picked to finish second in the Coastal Division and came close at third, but never lived up to the preseason hype or the regular-season ranking. UNC popped and out of the top 25 and finished the season out. Granted, there were numerous injuries and it was a heck of an improvement from a year ago, but it wasn't the championship-caliber season some might have envisioned.

MOST OVERRATED LOSS: Alabama 34, Clemson 10. It seemed as if the world -- and the ACC -- was caving in, but clearly, the Crimson Tide were better than everyone thought. So was the ACC.

MOST OVERRATED UNIT: This is a toss-up. Is it Maryland's veteran offensive line? Virginia Tech's, which had two juniors and two seniors? Or Georgia Tech's defensive line? Well, the best defensive line in the ACC turned out to be at Boston College, and the best offensive line was either at Florida State or Boston College. I'm going to go with Maryland's offensive line, which had three seniors and a junior and allowed 28 sacks this season.

  Rex Brown/Getty Images
  C.J. Spiller averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2008.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

C.J. Spiller just gave Clemson's offense a huge boost with his decision to stay.

As of right now, he is Clemson's offense. Well, he and Jacoby Ford.

The decision is a bit of a surprise, considering his best friend, James Davis will be gone, as will quarterback Cullen Harper and the Tigers' top two receivers. However, Spiller has been known to make decisions he thinks are best -- not what everyone else thinks is best -- including his mother.

Patricia Watkins had wanted her son to go to Florida, and Spiller shocked a lot of people when he announced he would play for Clemson. Watkins reportedly advised her son to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft, too.

Spiller had said before the bowl game, though, that if Dabo Swinney was hired as the head coach, it would have a positive impact on his decision. After all, Swinney recruited Spiller. And heading into spring camp, Swinney needs his prized recruit more than ever.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

We know what the ACC's best win was (Virginia Tech over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl), and there shouldn't be much debate about the worst loss (Georgia Tech to LSU). But there were moments and plays within the games that defined the bowl season for the ACC. Here's a look at the best and worst the conference had to offer in its 10 games:

  AP Photo/Matt Cilley
  Da'Rel Scott came off the bench in the second half, running for 174 yards and two TDs.

BEST STORY: Breaking curfew and breaking tackles: Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott was benched for two-and-a-half quarters for breaking curfew (Boise must be more interesting than it sounds), but came in and rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in the Terps' 42-35 win over Nevada.

BEST SOUVENIR: Sod. After beating Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, FSU punter Graham Gano cut a swatch of sod out from the 3-yard line near where two of his punts went out.

BEST QUOTE: "BCS -- finally, we got one!" -- Virginia Tech cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris.

BEST CATCH: Easily UNC's Hakeem Nicks' behind-the-back vs. West Virginia. Anyone who watched Nicks reach behind his back, grab the ball with his left hand and pass it to his right for an eight-yard gain had to think NFL. The remarkable catch set up T.J. Yates' 4-yard touchdown run to give North Carolina a 30-24 lead.

BEST STAT: 32. The Wake Forest seniors finished as the winningest class in school history with 32 victories after their win over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl.

BEST COACHING JOB: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech. The entire ACC owes him a big "thank you" for breaking the league's eight-game losing streak in BCS bowls. Beamer had to have been feeling the pressure after last year's loss to Kansas, but he kept the team and the staff together and directed the Hokies to a 20-7 win over Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

WORST ENDING: Miami's fumble and botched two-minute offense against Cal. There was poor clock management on the Canes' final possession, and freshman quarterback Jacory Harris fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter as Miami squandered its chance to beat Cal in the Emerald Bowl.

WORST DECISION: Clemson's comeback gets sacked. Trailing 26-21 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers had crept as close as Nebraska's 10-yard line with under two minutes left to play. On second and goal from the 10, quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked for a loss of 16 yards. The veteran should have gotten rid of it.

WORST QUARTER: Second quarter of the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU outscored Georgia Tech 28-0. 'Nuff said.

WORST INJURY: NC State quarterback Russell Wilson's knee injury. While Wilson was sidelined for all of the second half against Rutgers in the Bowl, his replacements combined to throw three interceptions. The Pack's 17-6 halftime edge quickly disappeared.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

I just received the final list of ACC players who will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., and the newest release includes four players from Virginia. It's only fitting that more than half of these bowl-bound players are defenders.

Here is the final list:

Boston College: defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace

Clemson: Cullen Harper, quarterback; James Davis, running back; Michael Hamlin, safety

Georgia Tech: Vance Walker, defensive tackle; Michael Johnson, defensive end

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

North Carolina St.: Anthony Hill, tight end; Andre Brown, running back

Virginia: Eugene Monroe, left tackle; Cedric Peerman, running back; John Phillips, tight end; Clint Sintim, linebacker

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

Wake Forest: Aaron Curry, linebacker; Alphonso Smith, cornerback; Chip Vaughn, safety

ACC represents in Senior Bowl

January, 5, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

The ACC will be well-represented in the Jan. 24 Under Armour Senior Bowl in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. From what I know, the only school with players yet to be announced is Virginia, and those names should be released in about a week. Here is the most current ACC list:

BC: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji

CLEMSON: Running back James Davis, safety Michael Hamlin, quarterback Cullen Harper

GEORGIA TECH: Defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Vance Walker

NCSU: Running back Andre Brown, tight end Anthony Hill

UNC: Wide receiver Brooks Foster

VIRGINIA TECH: Cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris, and possibly one more.

WAKE FOREST: Linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn

Clemson's offense flat in finale

January, 1, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Clemson survived just about everything a team possibly could this season -- everything, that is, but the final two minutes.

 Daniel Plassmann/US Presswire
 Coach Dabo Swinney's mistake-prone offense cost Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

The Tigers endured a faceplant after being elevated to unrealistic expectations in the preseason polls, a midseason coaching change, and the loss of both their offensive and defensive coordinators. Their offensive woes came back to haunt them, though, on their final possession of the season in a 26-21 loss to Nebraska.

Instead of throwing the ball away as efficiently as he did for much of the first half, quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked for a loss of 16 yards to set up third-and-goal from the 26. Clemson had no timeouts and the playclock was running. Amid confusion on the final play, Harper took the snap with only three seconds left on the play clock, and for some reason, Aaron Kelly, Clemson's record-setting receiver, wasn't involved in the play.

The disorganization continued when the defense was penalized for having 12 players on the field, and Clemson looked more like a 4-4 ACC team than say, a certain 5-3 ACC team that won nine games this year.

Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest -- all Atlantic Division teams -- are the only ACC winners in the nine bowl games that have been played so far. Tonight's FedEx Orange Bowl, featuring ACC champ Virginia Tech, is the conference's final chance to improve its bowl record.

Clemson has plenty of chances to do it, but was inept on offense (four yards rushing, three of 16 on third-down conversions) against a rather inviting pass defense. Harper threw two costly interceptions, and all three of Clemson's scores came off turnovers. In addition to adding a defensive coordinator to his staff, coach Dabo Swinney might also want to think long and hard about an offensive coordinator. The Tigers were also hurt by a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.

It all overshadowed a gutsy effort by the Tigers' defense, which forced Nebraska to score on four field goals, and scored the first touchdown of the game. Clemson can't knock good teams off the ball, and the Tigers struggle against veteran defenses that are well coached. And Bo Pelini is a defensive kind of guy.

What has to be frustrating for Clemson fans is watching this offense at its finest, like on a critical fourth-and-4 in the fourth quarter when Harper threw a beautiful pass to Jacoby Ford to extend the drive, or the 41-yard touchdown pass over the top to Ford that showcased his blazing speed. Those were the kinds of plays fans hungered for as the Tigers mucked their way through the first half of the season with former coach Tommy Bowden.

Instead, it was the dropped balls, the inconsistency at quarterback, the offensive line, the coaching changes and the play calling that defined their season.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

There are three teams playing for bowl eligibility this weekend: Virginia, NC State and Clemson. Here is a quick breakdown of which one of them as the best shot at becoming the ACC's ninth bowl-eligible team and why:


Why they'll make it: The Cavaliers don't want to see that four-game October winning streak become meaningless, and this senior class has never beaten the Hokies. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in the series, every one since it joined the league. They will also become bowl eligible because of tailback Cedric Peerman and linebacker Clint Sintim, two leaders on both sides of ball who can be difference makers.

Why they won't: Turnovers. They've been costly in every loss. Also because Virginia Tech has more at stake and the Hokies have home-field advantage. That actually means something in Lane Stadium. If they lose this game, they lose their chance at playing for the ACC title.


Why they'll make it: If Dabo Swinney wants so much as an interview for head job, they have to. Also, the Tigers have home-field advantage and the same players (Aaron Kelly, Cullen Harper and Mark Buchholz) who won the game for them last year.

Why they won't: The Tigers will be without their best pass-rusher, injured bandit end Ricky Sapp, and they'll face a healthier, deeper South Carolina defense that had been playing well until last week against Florida. The Gamecocks also have the edge in coaching experience.


Why they'll make it: Quarterback Russell Wilson. He has been the difference in the Pack's three-game winning streak. The defense, though, has also been better as NC State has not allowed 20 or more points during the streak. Also, because it's playing for bowl eligibility, which Miami already has, and again, home-field advantage.

Why they won't: The defense will struggle to stop Miami's numerous playmakers, and the Hurricanes will be able to execute a balanced offense against the Pack. Miami is also looking to redeem itself from an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech.


NC State will represent the ACC in the Eagle Bank Bowl, and for the first time in conference history, the league will have nine bowl-eligible teams.