ACC: Dabo Swinney
- Boston College is taking a ride on the bowl carousel. Andre Williams' Heisman hopes took a hit in a loss to Syracuse.
- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the Tigers deserve a BCS bowl bid.
- Duke has followed David Cutcliffe's path to success.
- Three things learned in Florida State's win over Florida.
- Gripping drama led to a most painful conclusion for Georgia Tech.
- The Maryland defense stood strong against NC State.
- Miami coach Al Golden says his team is ready to go bowling.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren said this was a "long, long season."
- A familiar loss haunts Pitt players.
- Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross says he believes in Scott Shafer's future.
- Virginia looks ahead to 2014.
- Virginia Tech continued its long dominance over the Hoos.
- Wake Forest lost a heartbreaker to Vanderbilt.
The bad. It was a weekend of blown opportunities for the ACC against the SEC, which got the upper hand in three of four matchups. After FSU beat Florida -- as it should have -- Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 first-half lead and fell at home in double overtime to an Aaron Murray-less Georgia 41-34. Wake Forest let a four-point lead late get away at Vanderbilt, which kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to escape with the victory. And then, for the cherry on top, Clemson turned the ball over six times to drop its fifth straight to rival South Carolina.
The ugly. Virginia fell to Virginia Tech 16-6, a fitting margin of defeat for a team that has now dropped 10 straight to the rival Hokies in the Commonwealth Cup, and one that has now ended the season on a 10-game slide. NC State did not fare much better, as Maryland beat the Wolfpack 41-21, in the Terrapins' final ACC game, meaning NC State also finishes winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren, losing its last eight and nine of its final 10. Kudos to Florida State for carrying the ACC flag to the top overall ranking this year, but the bottom of the league was as ugly as ever in 2013.
Now what? These last few years are tough to put in perspective for Clemson. Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd have, in some ways, taken the Tigers to new heights, amassing great recruiting classes and breaking records. At 10-2, Clemson has its third straight season with double-digit wins; it had not posted consecutive 10-win seasons since 1989-90. At No. 13 in the BCS standings, a second Orange Bowl berth in three years remains a real possibility. Yet Swinney and Boyd are 0-5 against rival South Carolina, and just 2-3 against top ACC competitor Florida State -- including an 0-4 mark against those teams in the last two years while going 21-0 against everyone else. The Tigers deserve credit for taking a sledgehammer to the word "Clemsoning" and erasing it from everyone's vernacular in recent years, but knowing that it still came up short against its toughest foes during a historic run has to be a tough pill to swallow, especially with no sign of the Seminoles slowing down.
Happy Thanksgiving. Pitt might have had a Black Friday to forget, as it lost at home to Miami,41-31. But the Panthers can be forgiven if they were in an extra-festive mood Thanksgiving night. That's because Mississippi State topped Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, assuring the SEC of 10 bowl-eligible teams and, more importantly, eliminating the potential vacant spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl, where Pitt has closed its last three seasons in Birmingham, Ala. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
Heisman hopes hurting. While it was a day of celebration for the Orange, it might have also been a blow to Boston College's hopes of getting its first Heisman Trophy winner since Doug Flutie. Andre Williams left the game with an injury in the third quarter, meaning his final impression on the voters was a line of nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Syracuse and Ohio State now remain the only teams in the nation not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Williams still has a solid chance of making it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but you have to think his chances of winning the trophy now are slim.
DeVon, again. DeVon Edwards can change a game in an instant, as evidenced by his consecutive pick-sixes -- and kickoff returns for a touchdown -- in Duke's win over NC State earlier this month. But the versatile 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman was not done for the month, as he made it a November to remember by returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score and then coming up with the game-sealing interception in the Blue Devils' 27-25 win at North Carolina to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. Coach David Cutcliffe was carried off the field after the win, Duke's record 10th of the season. It will now take aim at the Seminoles as it goes for its first ACC title since 1989.
Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7), noon, ESPN
What's at stake: A win would move Florida State to 12-0 for the first time since finishing the 1999 national championship season with a 12-0 mark. A loss would ruin any shot at a national championship.
Statistically speaking: Coach Jimbo Fisher is looking to improve his record to 7-1 against in-state rivals Florida and Miami.
Quotable: "What we have to do is worry about playing well this weekend in Gainesville and if we do that, then the outcomes come. When you’re asked about it and you’re 18-22 years old, they can create distractions. It’s how much you believe in the system we have and what’s going on and can you compartmentalize all the other things and the questions that are going on about that. It is very tough. If it wasn’t tough, people would do it all the time." --- Fisher
No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2) at North Carolina (6-5, 4-3), noon, ESPN2
What's at stake: If Duke wins, the Blue Devils clinch a spot in the ACC championship game opposite Florida State, their first 10-win season and their first outright Coastal Division title.
Statistically speaking: Duke and Georgia Tech are the only teams in the nation that have converted 100 percent of their goal-to-go opportunities into touchdowns. The Blue Devils have converted all 22 of their chances, headlined by Brandon Connette’s 13 rushing scores.
Quotable: "You start out 1-5 then every one of them is more important. Each time you’re successful, the game becomes more important and a bigger game. They know where it’s at right now. I can assure you I’m not going to have to do anything to create more motivation for our guys. They’re going to be prepared and they’re going to be excited to play." -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora
Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4), 12:21 p.m., GamePlan
What's at stake: The Deacs are trying to avoid their worst season since going 3-9 in 2010. A win would break a two-game losing streak in the series.
Statistically speaking: Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock has recorded a tackle for loss in 10 of 11 games this season. On the year, he has nine sacks (tied for No. 5 in the ACC) and 17 tackles for loss (third in the ACC). Both totals are team highs.
Quotable: "I think the thing that stands out with most of our seniors is that they've kind of maxed out what they can do. We may see a couple of guys that could have played better or could of had better careers, but most of these guys in the senior class really tried every year to be the best they could be and that's what you feel good about. I think these guys are a pretty close group and they care about each other and they've just tried as much as possible to be the best players they can be in our program." -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe
Maryland (6-5, 2-5) at NC State (3-8, 0-7), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan
What's at stake: The Terps surely want to win their final conference game ever, while NC State is hoping to avoid its first winless season in ACC play since 1959.
Statistically speaking: The games in this series are generally close. Of the last 13 contests between them, 11 have been decided by 10 points or fewer. Five of those 13 games have been decided by four or less points and 10 by less than 10 points.
Quotable: "As hard as it’s been we’ve grown very close as a team and these guys want to see our seniors finish the season the way they want to finish it. Playing at home, playing an ACC team at home and playing in our last game with these guys is enough of a reason for these guys to want to play well." -- NC State coach Dave Doeren
Georgia (7-4) at Georgia Tech (7-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC
What's at stake: Georgia Tech has an opportunity to beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 2008 and just the second time since 2000.
Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only teams in the nation to rank in the top 10 nationally in both rushing offense and rushing defense. The Jackets rank fourth in rush offense, 10th in rush defense.
Quotable: "I never had a chance to coach against him, but Herschel Walker. He's a big guy who runs through people and is fast. I mean he's a good player and he's going to be a good player for a long time if he doesn't get hurt. He's not only going to be good at Georgia, he's going to be a heck of an NFL running back too. He's got all the tools that they look for. He's good at running the football and is big and physical. He's a good receiver coming out of the backfield. He can do a lot of things." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on what player compares to Georgia running back Todd Gurley
Boston College (7-4, 4-3) at Syracuse (5-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m, GamePlan
What's at stake: The Orange must win out to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. As for BC, running back Andre Williams is now in the Heisman race. Another 200-yard performance will certainly help the cause.
Statistically speaking: The most recent meeting between these teams came at the Carrier Dome in 2010, with Boston College winning 16-7. Williams, then a backup freshman, filled in for injured starter Montel Harris and rushed for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles.
Quotable: “We always knew at Syracuse that we were going to come into this game at the end of the year and it was going to be a really rough, physical, black-and-blue game. We prided ourselves at that time on being a physical team, and I know BC did, and we just knew that it was going to be one of those games at the end where it was going to be a real fistfight. Everyone was jacked about it and everybody couldn’t wait to get to that game. It was targeted, it was red letter game. I learned that when I went to Syracuse my first year as an assistant coach. It was quickly explained to me how important the BC-Syracuse game was, and I never lost that. I have a unique perspective on it obviously and I have a great appreciation for it.” -- Boston College coach Steve Addazio
Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3) at Virginia (2-9, 0-7), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
What's at stake: Virginia Tech should know before this game starts whether it still has a shot at making the ACC championship game. The Hokies need Duke to lose to North Carolina, and then have to go out and beat the Hoos.
Statistically speaking: The Hokies have actually fared better on the road than at home over the last 11 seasons against the Cavaliers. In the five games at Scott Stadium since 2002, the Hokies have averaged 37.2 points per game. In six games at Lane Stadium since 2002, Virginia Tech has averaged just 18.7 points per game.
Quotable: "Well I think both of us compete very, very hard against each other. You try to have success against their program. I don’t think what has happened in the past makes a lot of difference, I think what happens this Saturday makes all the difference. Every year it’s a new year, different teams, different people and what happens this Saturday is what is really important for us." -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer
No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2
What's at stake: South Carolina has an opportunity to extend its winning streak in the series to a school-record five games. BCS hopes are on the line for both teams as well.
Statistically speaking: This is the third straight season Clemson and South Carolina have both been ranked in the AP top 20 entering the game. This series is one of just four nationally where that has been the case. The others are LSU-Florida, LSU-Alabama and Oregon-Stanford.
Quotable: "They are what you would expect when you look at a top-10 football team. They are a top-10 football team because they have a bunch of great players. They play hard and play tough and play with a lot of confidence. Our focus is on trying to finish and it has been. We want to have the best finish that we possibly can and, obviously, winning this game is huge part of that." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
In retrospect, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd wasn’t bothered by the fumble on the first play of the Oct. 19 game against Florida State. He was more irritated by how he handled it on the sideline.
“I didn’t keep these guys uplifted,” he said on Tuesday. “I didn’t pay it any mind how they felt. Who knows what was going through anybody’s head that game? I was thinking, ‘OK, cool, let’s just go back to the sideline, we’ll be fine.’ And we weren’t.”
Against FSU, in the biggest game of the year, Boyd and the Clemson Tigers collectively delivered their worst performance of the season and were steamrolled in a 51-14 loss that blew them right out of the national championship picture. Not since then has Clemson played a game as meaningful as the one it will play Saturday evening when it travels to rival South Carolina. In what will be the first top-10 matchup between the programs, Clemson is looking to snap a four-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and it will need Boyd to be at his best in his final shot against South Carolina.
That hasn’t been the case in years past.
Two of the most glaring trends in Clemson’s losses to South Carolina have been the turnover margin and the Tigers’ inability to protect Boyd. Clemson has had nine turnovers in four games against the Gamecocks, while South Carolina has committed only three and had a positive turnover margin in each of the wins. Clemson also has thrown at least one interception in all four games: three by Boyd and two by former quarterback Kyle Parker.
While this will be the final regular-season game of Boyd’s career, he said he is not approaching it as his last chance to beat South Carolina.
Instead, he wants to do what he didn’t against Florida State.
“For right now, I’m just trying to be the best leader I possibly can be for my teammates,” he said. “These guys are going to respond how I respond, how I perform, how I act. So I just need to make sure I get everything in gear, understand the game plan, understand what I’m trying to accomplish here to make sure we get it down.”
According to ESPN’s Stats & Information department, in three games against South Carolina (two starts), Boyd has averaged just 113.0 passing yards per game and thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). He has been sacked 14 times and held to minus-15 yards rushing. He has thrown only four completions that have gained at least 20 yards.
Clemson has allowed 28 sacks this season, an average of 2.55 per game. Boyd said he’s confident the pass protection will be better Saturday.
“In every situation, for a quarterback to be effective, the pass pro has got to be there,” he said. “It’s not going to be perfect every time, but you want to give yourself a chance. I think the guys understand the stakes and the situation, and I’m confident we’ll do a good job in pass pro. That’s something that has been relatively good this year, and I feel confident in the guys I’ve got up front.”
Clemson has every reason to be confident in Boyd. He is now responsible for 126 touchdowns, with 24 rushing and 102 touchdown passes, both ACC records.
About the only thing he doesn’t have is a win over South Carolina.
“This game is always personal because of how big it is in the state,” Boyd said. “We have a huge Clemson standing throughout the state. It’s not just us that has to live with it; our fans have to live with it 365 days as well. Three-hundred-sixty-five times four? That’s a long time our fans have had to endure these things.”
It’s an even longer time, though, for the starting quarterback.
- The jabs between Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier aren't personal.
- Syracuse is still clinging on to bowl hopes.
- These are hilarious. Love the hate.
- Maryland will play its final regular-season game as a member of the ACC.
- Pitt senior offensive lineman Juantez Hollins decided not to quit, and the team is glad he stuck around.
- Miami defensive end David Gilbert had the perfect ending to his career.
- Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett could finally see the field again against Pitt.
- Heisman ballots were mailed out on Monday.
- Duke has a chance to make an already special season even more spectacular.
- Athlon has your Week 14 preview and predictions.
- Nobody has any idea what to expect from the Deacs this weekend.
- UVa's defense has shown signs of progress this season -- just not in the scoring defense category.
- How about Virginia Tech's offense? Better? Stats don't lie.
- Maryland coach Randy Edsall didn't seem to second-guess his decision to call a timeout.
- Virginia is losing on the field, but winning in recruiting.
Game: Duke (8-2) at Wake Forest (4-6)
What’s at stake: The Coastal Division title is on the line for Duke, which can win it outright with two more wins, against Wake Forest and North Carolina. A win would guarantee Duke at least a share of the division title, while a loss by the Blue Devils would send them into a tie with Georgia Tech, and also possibly Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A win would also give Duke a ninth win for the first time since 1971. Wake Forest, meanwhile, has to win out just to become bowl eligible.
Statistically speaking: All four of Duke’s running backs -- Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- average at least five yards per rushing attempt this season. A total of 43.8 percent of Duke’s offense has come from its ground game this year.
Quotable: “This isn't a flash in the pan. We're going to be good next year if our team has the kind of work ethic that this team has.” -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe
Game: Virginia (2-8) at Miami (7-3)
What’s at stake: Miami still has a slim chance at playing in the ACC title game. It needs to win its final two games and hope Duke loses, for starts, so there is no margin for error against the Hoos. Virginia is looking to snap a seven-game winning streak and finish on a strong note.
Statistically speaking: UVa true freshman Keeon Johnson made his collegiate debut in the Cavaliers’ fifth game of the season after originally being slated to redshirt. He has 17 catches for 226 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and one touchdown. He’s on pace to have the best true freshman receiving season for a UVa wide receiver since Billy McMullen had 28 catches for 483 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and six touchdowns in 1999.
Quotable: “A lot of players on this team have been successful against Miami. It's one of those things you have to create that mindset, that balance of, we got two games left, and we want to play to the best of our ability to send these seniors out.” -- Uva coach Mike London
Game: Old Dominion (8-3) at North Carolina (5-5)
What’s at stake: North Carolina would become bowl eligible with a win, completing one of the best turnarounds in college football this year. The Tar Heels started out 1-5, but enter this game on a four-game winning streak.
Statistically speaking: UNC freshman Ryan Switzer has the single-season school record with three punt return touchdowns. The ACC single-season record is four by Maryland’s Steve Suter in 2002. The ACC career mark is six, also held by Suter. Three of Switzer’s last five punt returns have gone for touchdowns.
Quotable: “The kids kept believing. They kept working extremely hard. They had great attitudes. And that's one thing that I can say about these guys: Their attitude after a game or going into a game has been the same each and every week. That has been very consistent, which is what we're looking for.” -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora
Game: The Citadel (5-6) at (7, 8, 6) Clemson (9-1)
What’s at stake: A BCS bowl. Pride. Senior Day. There shouldn’t even be a whiff of an upset in Death Valley, and this should be an easy week before ending the regular season against rival South Carolina. Clemson has to keep winning, though, to help ensure a shot at a BCS bowl. If Clemson can defeat The Citadel, it will give the Tigers 31 wins over the last three years, the most in a three-year period in school history.
Statistically speaking: Saturday will be the final home game for Clemson’s 19 seniors. Only 10 of the 19 are scholarship players. The class has a 36-14 record over the last four years, the sixth-most wins for a class in Clemson history. That includes 24 wins over ACC teams, the most in school history in a four-year period.
Quotable: “He has I think been the best receiver in the country. I don't think there's any doubt about it in my mind.” – Dabo Swinney on WR Sammy Watkins
Game: East Carolina (8-2) at NC State (3-7)
What’s at stake: Pride. Recruiting. There’s plenty of history between ECU and NC State, as the Pirates are located in Greenville, N.C. The two teams met every season from 1970-1987, but since then have played just nine times. This one is important because of the state of both programs within the state -- ECU is trending up and NC State? Well, the Pack have lost six straight and are winless in league play. This is a chance for first-year coach Dave Doeren to reassert the program’s place within the state, and to avoid what could be an embarrassing home loss.
Statistically speaking: Freshman wide receiver Jumichael Ramos has 18 catches this season, and eight of them have been to convert a third or fourth down. Only one time when Ramos was targeted on a third or fourth down play did the rookie fail to convert and that was a third and 15 against Syracuse when he gained 11 yards.
Quotable: “I know what they're saying at that school. Those things have been talked about here. We feel like we have a lot to prove, probably more than them to be honest with you. It's a game that means a lot for a lot of reasons.” – NC State coach Dave Doeren
Game: Pitt (5-5) at Syracuse (5-5)
What’s at stake: Bowl eligibility and bragging rights. These former Big East teams will play for the first time as ACC opponents, and one of them will finish bowl eligible. The loser of the game will have one more chance to reach the six-win mark in the regular-season finale. This is also a chance for Pitt to redeem itself from last year’s 14-13 loss to the Orange.
Statistically speaking: S Ray Vinopal has created four turnovers in his last two games, including a forced fumble and recovery to set up a Panthers’ touchdown against North Carolina.
Quotable: “With the push towards the big mega-conferences, to some degree, I'm saddened that some of the rivalries are not played anymore. We don't play West Virginia anymore. That was a great game. So I'm glad that we are able to do two things, first and foremost, this week playing a Pitt team that we've been playing for the last 55 years; I think it's great for the fans in both towns and for the fans in the northeast that have watched these games for so many years,” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer
Game: Alabama A&M (4-7) at Georgia Tech (6-4)
What’s at stake: It’s the first meeting between the schools, and the first time Georgia Tech will play a team from the SWAC, and the first time coach Paul Johnson will coach against a team from that conference. As far as the ACC race goes, Georgia Tech has to wait and see how it plays out, as the Jackets have wrapped up their ACC play at 5-3. They’re in sole possession of second place in the division this week. The only thing at stake here for Georgia Tech really is avoiding an embarrassing loss and using an unheralded opponent to tune up for the regular-season finale against Georgia.
Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech’s defense has not allowed a rushing play longer than 34 yards. The Yellow Jackets are one of just 10 FBS teams that have not allowed any rushing plays of 40 yards or longer. In Georgia Tech’s six wins this season, the defense has allowed just 11.5 points per game.
Quotable: “We could have -- had we played better Thursday night and found a way to beat a good Clemson team; we knew going into that game we had a chance. If we won that game, I felt like we had a chance to win the division without the tiebreaker or outright. There's still that chance. I think the Coastal is pretty well balanced and I don't know that there's one team that's head and shoulders better than the rest. You just step back and let the guys play out and see what happens.” -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
Game: Boston College (6-4) at Maryland (6-4)
What’s at stake: Maryland is trying to break a two-game losing streak to the Eagles, and with two more wins, the Terps could finish the ACC season at .500 -- a huge improvement from the past two seasons under Randy Edsall. It would also be a strong finish for Maryland in what will be the program’s final year in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten. Both teams are already bowl eligible, so this game is about continuing the positive momentum, and positioning themselves for one of the better bowls.
Statistically speaking: BC is fifth in the country and second in the ACC in red zone offense, having scored on 21 of 22 chances. BC has scored 13 touchdowns (six rushing and seven passing ) and has kicked eight field goals to account for their 18 scores from inside the red zone.
Quotable: “I think Andre is an outstanding football player. The answer to that is yes. The definition is being a dominant football player, leading rusher in America. High, high character. A great human being. A real student-athlete. Certainly extremely valuable to our football team. I would say he fits all that criteria.” -- BC coach Steve Addazio on whether RB Andre Williams is a Heisman contender
Game: Idaho (1-9) at (2, 2, 2) Florida State (10-0)
What’s at stake: The national championship. It doesn’t change for Florida State, which must win out to maintain its No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.
Statistically speaking: The Seminoles have outscored their opponents 170-21 before halftime during their last five games -- a stretch that featured two top 10 opponents (No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 Miami). During the five-game span, FSU has nearly tripled its opponent’s yardage in the first half -- averaging 301 yards before halftime and allowing just 110 yards to opponents. With Florida State resting most of its starters for the better portion of the second half in these games, opponents have gained nearly 50 percent more yards after halftime (156.8).
Quotable: “We have played good football, but there are still things we need to clean up and we know that. We have not played our best football yet in my opinion.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
While Florida State has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, division rival Clemson has gone about its business without much fanfare or attention. You could even say the preseason favorites in the ACC have all of a sudden become an under-the-radar team.
But the spotlight will be shining on Clemson starting Thursday night against Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2), as the Tigers (8-1, 6-1) try to remain in contention for an at-large BCS bid. Their final two FBS games of the season are high on the difficulty scale. The Jackets have historically given the Tigers all sorts of problems. Then the regular-season finale against bitter rival South Carolina could potentially give Clemson its third top-10 matchup this season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would disapprove of all the look-ahead talk, but everybody inside the program knows what is at stake with a strong finish to the season. Keep in mind the Tigers have been ranked in the top 10 for 12 straight polls, the longest streak in Clemson history. It is currently the fourth-longest streak in the FBS, behind Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State.
"There’s a lot of opportunity for this team," Swinney said in a recent phone interview. "There has never been a team in the history of this school to start in the top 10 and stay in the top 10 all year. There’s so much for them to focus on and things that they control. When it’s all said and done, you look up and we’ll see where the cards fall. We’ve got a chance to have one of the best seasons in the history of this school if we can stay focused and continue to win."
Clemson deserves credit for staying focused after an embarrassing 51-14 home loss to Florida State, a loss that essentially flipped the scripts for the Tigers and the Noles. Florida State went on to clinch a spot in the ACC championship game. Clemson was left to pick up the pieces, knowing full well its ACC and national championship hopes were all but over with five regular-season games left to play.
But Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford said he and his teammates refused to let that one loss define their season. As a point of reference, he mentions the 2011 season and Clemson's game against these very Jackets. The Tigers went into that game unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country. They proceeded to lose 31-17, then dropped three of their final five games, including a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl.
“"We don’t want to go back down that route," Crawford said. "We want to stay focused, get ready for Georgia Tech, and not think about anything else. I feel what happened with us in 2011, we were the big dogs, we were unstoppable and whatnot, but now we realize everybody that plays us wants to get a piece of Clemson and wants to take Clemson down, especially in the ACC since we became one of the big, prominent teams. We’re going to get everyone’s best and we’re going to have to come out and give our best and just play ball."
When it's all said and done, you look up and we'll see where the cards fall. We've got a chance to have one of the best seasons in the history of this school if we can stay focused and continue to win.” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on the Tigers finishing the season.
Clemson might ultimately be judged on its performances against Florida State and South Carolina when the 2013 season comes to a close. But there really is plenty at stake. Not only is there BCS talk, but the Tigers also have a chance to post three straight 10-win seasons for the first time since a four-year streak from 1987-90.
"There’s only going to be one team that wins the national championship, but ultimately, you want to be the best you can be every year," Swinney said. "That’s the mentality we have on and off the field. We can’t be 12-0, but hey, what are we going to end up? Can we be 11-1? Can we be 10-2? Is it 9-3? What’s our best? I don’t know. But every opportunity we have to play, we have to put our best foot forward. There’s been a lot of consistency with these guys, and the only reason we’ve been able to have that type of consistency is because of that mentality that these guys have. I'm proud of the guys for how they've responded."
Boyd, a native of Hampton, Va., became the league’s career leader in touchdown responsibility when he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Clemson’s first possession and fifth play of the game. He now has 116 for his career, 93 passing and 23 rushing.
“It was great to come down here and get a victory, that makes it 4-0 against my home state, which is sweet, but at the same time, we wanted to play the type of football that we are capable of playing, and that was the biggest thing,” Boyd said after the game. “We have four games left, and we want to play our best football in November.”
So far, so good.
Boyd completed his first nine passes of the game for 135 yards and a touchdown. He finished 24-of-29 for 377 yards and three touchdowns. It was his 16th career 300-yard passing game, good for second in ACC history. That’s another milestone he could break this fall. Only Philip Rivers of NC State has had more (18). Boyd now has 93 career touchdown passes, just two short of another ACC record held by Rivers (95).
He also tied the school record for wins against ACC teams with 20.
In the past two weeks, Boyd has bounced back from a disappointing performance in the Oct. 19 loss to Florida State with back-to-back wins over Maryland and Virginia.
“I loved his demeanor,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “He was excited about being back here in Virginia tonight. Those senior guys know the end is coming, and I think they all have a great appreciation for what they have been able to accomplish here at Clemson University. They want to finish strong so it was good to see him have that success tonight. I have no doubt he will continue to do whatever he can to finish strong.”
Virginia Tech (6-2) at Boston College (3-4) (ABC/ESPN2 12 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: The Hokies’ hopes of staying in the ACC’s Coastal Division race. Last week’s loss to Duke put Virginia Tech behind Miami, and the Hokies still have to play the Canes. They have no more margin for error, though, if they want to get back to Charlotte. Three of the Hokies’ final four games are on the road, starting today.
Statistically speaking: Nine of the Hokies’ nation-leading 17 interceptions have been contributed by true freshmen.
Quotable: “Now do you come back stronger than ever, mentally tougher than ever, or do you give into it? I think in everyday life people go through that struggle. We as a football team, that's what we'll find out this week.” -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer
North Carolina (2-5) at NC State (3-4) (ACC Network, 12:30 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: In-state pride, recruiting turf wars, bragging rights and bowl hopes. North Carolina has to win four of its last five games to become bowl eligible. NC State has to win three of its last five, but the Pack is still looking for its first conference win. UNC is also looking for its first road win in the series since 2005. The Tar Heels snapped a five-game losing streak to their rival last year. The Wolfpack will play four of their final five regular-season games within a 23-mile radius of Carter-Finley Stadium.
Statistically speaking: UNC TE Eric Ebron has 599 receiving yards this year, just 26 yards shy of matching his own school record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end of 625, set in 2012. Ebron is also just five catches behind his school-record tight end reception mark of 40 from a season ago.
Quotable: “All Of These Wolfpack Fans Are In For RUDE AWAKENING Come Saturday! #BeatState #BADLY” -- Ebron, via Twitter
Wake Forest (4-4) at Syracuse (3-4) (RSN, 12:30 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: The Deacs’ bowl hopes. With Florida State and road trip to Vanderbilt on the schedule, Wake’s best hopes at becoming bowl eligible will come today against Syracuse and on Nov. 23 against Duke. For Syracuse, the Orange are looking for their second league win of the season. Cuse has to take advantage of these winnable home games (Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College). There’s still time for Cuse to get to six wins, but they’ve got some pride on the line right now.
Statistically speaking: Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price has accounted for 62 career touchdowns, just three shy of Riley Skinner’s school record of 65 (60 passing, 4 rushing, 1 receiving) which he set from 2006- 09. Price has thrown 51 touchdown passes, run for 10 touchdowns and was on the receiving end of a pass in the win over Maryland on Oct. 26.
Quotable: “Our guys, really for three games now, have played really, really hard, and we were able to get NC State and we were able to get Maryland and then had a great chance to get Miami and didn't get it done. We've got a team that any time you've got a team that really plays their hearts out and comes up short, your biggest worry as a coach is being able to get them back up again.” -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe
Clemson (7-1) at Virginia (2-6) (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: Clemson’s BCS hopes and Virginia’s bowl hopes. With the loss to Florida State, Clemson simply can’t lose again if it wants to salvage the season with a BCS bowl game. If the Tigers win out, there’s a good chance they can either earn a bid to the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl, depending on how the rest of the ACC and top 10 shakes out. Virginia, meanwhile, has to win out just to become bowl eligible.
Statistically speaking: Sammy Watkins has an AQ-high 516 yards after the catch this season. Watkins had a season-high 109 yards after the catch against Maryland last week. Virginia has scored 13 points off turnovers this season, tied for the sixth fewest in the nation.
Quotable: “But I think their future is very bright, and they're just a few plays away. Nobody wants to hear that, but I think with a little patience this team is going to step up and be one of the surprise teams in the next year or so.” -- Dabo Swinney on Virginia
Pitt (4-3) at Georgia Tech (5-3) (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: The Jackets can become bowl eligible today, and earn the program’s 700th win -- the latter being a milestone Syracuse and Virginia have already reached this season. The good news for the Jackets is that last Saturday’s win assured the program of finishing .500 or better in ACC play for the 19th straight season. Pitt, playing its second straight road game, is trying to bounce back from last week’s surprising loss to Navy. The Panthers still have plenty of time to reach the six-win mark, but they’ve also got two ranked opponents remaining in Notre Dame and Miami.
Statistically speaking: Pitt receiver Devin Street became Pitt’s all-time leader in career receptions last week with 179. He surpassed Latef Grim who tallied 178 career catches from 1998-2000. He now has 186 career catches. Street now has 2,692 career receiving yards and is approaching the all-time record which is held by Antonio Bryant (3,061).
Quotable: “We played really poorly against Virginia Tech. That's probably about as poorly as I've seen our football [team] play maybe since I've been here. I think you have to give them some credit for that, too, but we played horrendously.”—Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
No. 7 Miami (7-0) at No. Florida State (7-0) (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
What’s at stake: Everything. Florida State, tangled up in a battle with Oregon for the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings, could regain the lead over the Ducks with a convincing win over the Canes. There’s no margin for error if the Noles want to have a shot at playing for the national title. For Miami, the Canes are playing for a possible BCS bid, but they can get to the Orange Bowl by winning the Coastal Division and the ACC championship. With two undefeated top 10 teams, anything is still possible for the winner. If Miami loses, it will even the score with the Hokies and set up a showdown for the Coastal Division lead next week. And, of course, you’ve also got bragging rights, state supremacy and recruiting battles on the line.
Statistically speaking: Jameis Winston has an FBS-high 99.5 third-down Total QBR, on pace to be the highest by any player in the last 10 seasons. Stephen Morris has a 26.9 third-down Total QBR this season, 108th best out of 127 qualified FBS quarterbacks. Morris converts a first down on 30% of his third-down passing plays (sacks + pass attempts), 95th best in the FBS and seven percentage points lower than the national average.
Quotable: “It's good for both schools. It's good for the state of Florida. It's good for the ACC, and it's good for college football. I think it's good all the way around, and like I say, it's one of the great traditional rivalries in the game, and it's great to see both teams up there.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
- It's been a long time since Pitt made a trip to Atlanta.
- Pitt isn't overlooking Georgia Tech's passing game.
- Here are three keys for Georgia Tech against Pitt.
- It's no secret what the Hokies need to do against BC.
- Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is looking forward to a homecoming of sorts.
- Can you figure out who this ACC star is?
- Here's a good story about a Syracuse recruit who has had to deal with the death of his father.
- Cuse linebacker Dyshawn Davis will play against Wake Forest.
- Welcome back, Donovan McNabb.
- For the first time this season, Virginia Tech has a healthy secondary.
- NC State will be motivated by what happened in last year's loss.
- Former UNC quarterback T.J. Yates has been a sounding board for QB Bryn Renner.
- Renner has gotten some help this year from Marquise Williams.
- Dabo Swinney thinks WR Sammy Watkins is a top 10 pick and doesn't expect him to return.
- Jim Grobe said the Deacs are "blessed" to have safety Anthony Wooding now.
- Here are some ACC stats for you about Week 10.
On Saturday, in a 40-27 win at Maryland, McDowell carried the bulk of the load.
“Our mindset is like this: If we can run the ball on you, it’s going to be a long night,” McDowell said. “We’ve got wide receivers who can catch the ball and if our running game is going good, hey, you’ve gotta stop us.”
Maryland did. Just not for four quarters.
Clemson's offense was even more productive with such an effective ground game, a piece of the puzzle that has been missing since the departure of 2012 leading rusher Andre Ellington. With quarterback Tajh Boyd still nursing a nagging ankle injury, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the game plan against the Terps was to limit Boyd’s role in the running game – a deviation from the Tigers’ typical scheme. While Boyd had to run more later in the game, the Tigers still finished with a season-high 236 rushing yards.
Now the goal is to keep it up.
“We’re going to try, absolutely,” Morris said. “There’s no reason why we can’t. We want to run the football. Coming into [Saturday] we said it all week long. We’re going to run the football. I’m going to be stubborn, I’m going to be ugly about it, and we’re going to run the football. We’re going to put it on those guys up front, and take a little pressure off Tajh Boyd, and let’s run the football. Let’s help him out.”
Boyd took notice.
“The running game was probably the most impressive part about it,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been searching for all season, and to see it explode [on Saturday] was pretty awesome. Credit to that O-line, and Hot Rod did some outstanding things, made some unbelievable plays and when nothing was there he went out and created them. That’s just what he does. He’s been that type of player, he is that type of player, and I just love that he’s on my squad.”
Clemson’s offensive line also did a solid job of blocking, and when the Tigers’ zone game wasn’t very effective -- especially near the goal line -- they switched to more of a power scheme at times and mixed in some counter.
“That’s really the core of what we want to do, is run the football efficiently,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “A lot of times there’s so much of our running game that turns into passes because of how people play us. It’s just built into our system. People are going to give certain things away. We’re built to take them. We get four yards, we’re happy with that. That’s just part of the running game. But on [Saturday] they were taking some of those things away on the peripheral, so we had to be a little bit more running-back oriented. I thought Hot Rod was excellent.”
The question is whether or not he can keep it up. We'll find out starting on Saturday at Virginia.
- Miami is one of the least-respected teams in the top 10.
- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney liked what he saw from his Tigers against Maryland on Saturday.
- This isn't the Duke you used to know.
- Here's what worked for the Blue Devils and what still needs work.
- Duke's bye week came at just the right time.
- Pitt's defense received a sneak preview of what it will see against Georgia Tech.
- FSU is atop the ACC again, but who's next?
- Maryland knows who its starting quarterback is, but which of the Terps' wide receivers will step up?
- BC took a definite step back in its loss to North Carolina.
- A lot of that had to do with the Eagles' inability to throw the ball.
- Virginia Tech has no choice but to bounce back quickly.
- Here's another version of ACC bowl projections for you -- with no national title game.
- Wake Forest has turned its attention to Syracuse.
On a Saturday in which the ACC was its ever-unpredictable self, Florida State was once again a model of consistency.
The Seminoles, just one week after further distancing themselves from the rest of the ACC with a convincing road win against then-No. 3 Clemson, gave the conference exactly what it needed in Week 9 -- a chest-bumping, spear-throwing, old school national title contender. Florida State looked no different in its 51-14 dismantling of Clemson last week than it did in its 49-17 win over unranked NC State on Saturday, and that’s what’s different about the Seminoles this year.
While Florida State was laughing its way through a 35-point first quarter, the rest of the ACC was collectively holding its breath. No. 7 Miami needed a touchdown in the final minute against lil ol’ Wake Forest to beat the Deacs at home. Pitt wasn’t as fortunate and fell to Navy 24-21, fitting right into its new conference by losing a game it shouldn’t have. Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times in Charlottesville and still beat Virginia 35-25. Clemson’s offense was stagnant early against a depleted Maryland team, but the Tigers finally asserted themselves in a 40-27 win -- with three turnovers.
The biggest surprise, of course, was Duke.
The Blue Devils marched into Blacksburg, notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in the ACC, turned the ball over four times and beat the No. 14 Hokies, 13-10. It's the first time in school history that the program has been bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons. It was also the first time since 1971 that Duke beat a ranked team on the road.
And they did it without converting one third down.
It was undoubtedly a win that Duke and coach David Cutcliffe should be commended for, a true turning point for the program under his direction and a milestone that was so monumental, the team will need its bye week to celebrate and digest it. What happened, though, to the Hokies? Logan Thomas threw four interceptions. There were two missed field goals, costly penalties.
The ineptitude of both offenses was glaring, but Duke’s historic win should overshadow Virginia Tech’s collapse.
FSU was the only team to earn any style points on Saturday, but in the end, the ACC avoided disaster again. Instead of surrendering to an epic upset, Miami did its part to set up what will be the league’s second top 10 game between undefeated teams in three weeks. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be heading to Tallahassee, the show’s third stop in ACC country this season.
And Clemson didn’t let the Noles beat it twice. The Tigers started the game with just one touchdown in six trips to the red zone, and they held a precarious 16-13 lead against a team that was missing its top two wide receivers, top running back and quarterback to injuries -- not to mention 13 other scholarship players. Quarterback Tajh Boyd said his ankle was still bothering him from the Florida State game -- and he tweaked his knee against Maryland -- but that he has played with worse. He got lots of help from running back Rod McDowell, who had 30 carries for 161 yards.
“It’s never been easy up here, never has been,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… It’s hard to win, period, but especially up here. Everybody knows the history here, but our guys responded to every situation. If there was a hangover [from the FSU game] when we had a couple lulls and this team wasn’t focused, it could have gone south in a hurry. But it didn’t and they responded. That’s what great teams do.”
The ACC has several good ranked teams, but as of right now, it has one great one. And that’s all it needs.
And then turned around and played their best game against LSU.
Last year, Clemson had a tough road loss to Florida State.
And then came back to beat Boston College.
“You really come together from a leadership standpoint,” Swinney said. “Everybody takes accountability and then you go back to practice. That's what we've done, and that's what this team has done really for the last couple of years. That's why we've had the success that we've had and the consistency that we've had, because they've responded, whether we've had a big win or we've had a really, really tough loss. We're 17-3 in the last 20 games, and those three losses were all painful. But they responded.”
As FSU prepares to host NC State, it’s impossible not to recall last year’s shocking 17-16 loss to the Pack in Raleigh, but both teams have gone in different directions since then. NC State fired former coach Tom O’Brien, and the Pack has a new coach in Dave Doeren and a new quarterback. It has also been plagued by injuries and will face a tough environment that will be welcoming back former coach Bobby Bowden as well as almost 400 former players.
"They're having Bobby Bowden Day where he is spiking the spear at midfield with all his former players," Doeren said. "I think they've done a good job of eliminating the trap game with their marketing."
Still, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said “all games are trap games if you don’t prepare for them.”
“I mean, if you say it's a trap game -- because what the kids hear, it's this game and this game you worry about,” Fisher said. “Well, if you're a mature team, you don't allow those things to happen. But yes, there's things that you have to look at, but it has nothing to do with NC State's ability, it just has the national media's focus that the other two teams are more highly ranked, but hopefully we'll be mature enough to look past that and be able to prepare because we know NC State will definitely be ready to play and bringing their A game.”
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said Miami already played its trap game last week at North Carolina. The Canes needed a touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds remaining to beat UNC in spite of four turnovers.
“I think North Carolina has got a really, really talented group of kids, and I really thought that was going to be a tough game for Miami, and it turned out to be that way, unfortunately for the Deacs,” Grobe said. “I think they're wide awake right now, so I've got a feeling we'll be taking their best shot.”
Don’t think the Deacs won’t be prepared, though, to give it back.
Everyone is playing for something, and for Duke, a win over the Hokies would be so big that coach David Cutcliffe conceded his team would probably need the bye week next Saturday to celebrate it. It has been 19 years since the program has beaten a ranked opponent.
“We do have an open date after beating them because we'd probably all be on Cloud 9,” Cutcliffe said. “That's just as honest as I can be. You don't want to be that way. You don't want to be giddy, if you will, about any win. But I'm certain the squad and the program itself would feel that way.”
So would Maryland, Wake Forest and NC State.
But the rise of the Tigers also has coincided with the re-emergence of division rival Florida State, a team that once dominated the ACC without much in the way of competition. Given the way Florida State thoroughly defeated Clemson last weekend, some have suggested the Noles have now widened the gap between themselves and everybody else in the league.
If that is indeed the case, what exactly does that mean for Clemson moving forward? Certainly there is half a season left to be played, and it would be foolish to overreact to one game. But Clemson was built to win a championship this season, with a veteran quarterback in Tajh Boyd returning to deliver on that promise. The Tigers were the slam-dunk choice to win the ACC in the preseason.
But the Noles have won the last two meetings between the teams now, and have seemingly one-upped the Tigers at every turn: at quarterback, with depth, and most significantly on the recruiting trail. That was completely evident in the 51-14 victory Saturday night.
Clemson was thought to have the edge with Boyd. Instead, Jameis Winston further added to his nickname and is now firmly entrenched as a legitimate Heisman contender. Depth at receiver, running back and on the defense stood out throughout the course of the game as well, giving Florida State the edge at virtually every position.
That has a direct correlation to recruiting, where Florida State has been the best in the ACC since Jimbo Fisher was promoted to head coach following the 2009 season. Swinney has done a fine job himself. Each of his five recruiting classes has been ranked in the top 20 by ESPN.com, including three consecutive top-13 rankings.
But each of Fisher’s four classes have been top 10, including the No. 1 class in 2011 and the No. 2 class in 2012. In the latest ESPN.com recruiting rankings for 2014, Florida State sits at No. 2. Clemson is at No. 13.
All of this suggests both programs are positioned to be at the forefront of the Atlantic Division year in and year out. There could very well be perennial Top-10 matchups between these two teams, the way we have seen over the last two seasons.
But Clemson has to now find a way to one-up Florida State.
It might not happen next year. Winston will be back for at least one more season. Boyd will be gone. Sammy Watkins most likely will be gone. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris could be gone, too. Clemson is not going to fall apart without them. But with Winston returning, Florida State will most likely be the preseason choice in 2014.
“To be sure, the loss on Saturday night stung deeper than most, given all the expectations for Clemson. Boyd said in a phone interview with ESPN.com that he did not sleep after the loss, and did a thorough self-evaluation when he studied the game tape Monday, wishing he could have done more to help his teammates.
They're a really great program, but they're not 37 points better than us. It just happened to be like that. We had things that didn't go our way and it just snowballed from there. It's college football and anything can happen, but that was the most disappointing thing. We didn't put our best foot forward at all.” -- Clemson QB Tajh Boyd on losing to FSU
Swinney has caught flak for saying earlier this week if the teams played 10 times, "We'd probably win five, they'd probably win five."
When asked whether Noles had separated from the rest of the ACC, and more specifically, Clemson Boyd said, “No, not at all. I don’t think so. They’re a really great program, but they’re not 37 points better than us. It just happened to be like that. We had things that didn’t go our way and it just snowballed from there. It’s college football and anything can happen, but that was the most disappointing thing. We didn’t put our best foot forward at all.”
Clemson rebounded after losing to Florida State in 2012 to finish with 11 wins and a victory over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The Tigers remain in the Top 10 after the loss last week and would be in position to get an at-large berth to the BCS if they win the remainder of their games, including the regular-season finale at South Carolina.
Boyd mentioned that as a motivating factor headed into the game this Saturday against Maryland.
“We had the senior group talk and just said we have to put it behind us,” Boyd said. “As disappointing as it was and as high as the expectations were, we still can achieve a great season. That’s what great teams do. They bounce back. They rebound.”
Still, Boyd said the mood around the Clemson campus remained “gloomy” four days after the loss. There is no getting around the realization that to get back to the ACC title game, the Tigers need to win all their ACC games and have Florida State lose twice.
Based on what we have seen out of Florida State and the rest of the league, it is hard to imagine the Noles finishing with two league losses. So for now, Clemson finds itself in an all-too familiar spot.
Chasing Florida State.
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