ACC: Eddie Goldman

Play that changed the ACC race

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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It was the scene every Florida State fan feared. Sean Maguire, still in the game in the fourth quarter because of a second suspension handed down to Jameis Winston less than a day before the game, was walking off the field having seemingly cost the Seminoles a chance at consecutive national titles.

With a little more than two minutes left in a tied game, Maguire threw an interception on the Seminoles' side of the field. Clemson began what it hoped would be the game's final drive at the FSU 26-yard line with 2:14 remaining. A win would give the Tigers a vise grip on the Atlantic Division title.

The Seminoles still had all three timeouts, though, and Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip missed field goals of 23 and 40 yards earlier in the game. The Tigers couldn’t just sit on the ball and hand it off to Lakip for an easy go-ahead kick. So the Tigers ran quarterback Deshaun Watson on first down before handing the ball to C.J. Davidson on second-and-short.

The offensive line paved a nice hole for Davidson, who looked as if he might be able to take the ball the final 18 yards. However, Seminoles defensive tackle Eddie Goldman got his big left paw on Davidson and the football and ripped the ball loose as he took Davidson to the ground. Nate Andrews was there to dive on the ball and push the game to a fifth quarter.

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The play, pure and simple, is the epitome of “Clemsoning.” In about a five-second span, that play sums up all that "Clemsoning" is and is potentially the defining "Clemsoning" moment considering it happened in a game with so many Tigers miscues that it generated this headline from The Washington Post.

Despite all the missed field goals and bad snaps, the Tigers were in the red zone with time winding down. Any score would have given Clemson the lead and forced the Seminoles to drive the field with Winston relegated to the sideline in jeans and a baseball cap. For Clemson fans, it might have been a satisfactory resolution for what happened in Death Valley in 2013.

If the remaining results of the 2014 ACC schedule held, the Seminoles would have been shut out of the conference championship game and the playoff. Clemson would possibly be playing in its third Orange Bowl in the last four seasons.

Instead, Florida State kept winning games in similar fashion and is on the cusp of having a 30-game winning streak.

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com All-ACC team:

Offense

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: Whenever FSU was in trouble, Greene was there to save the day. He made big catch after big catch, took big hit after big hit, and ended the season with 93 catches for 1,306 yards, helping him break both FSU's records for receptions and receiving yards.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: The senior caught 35 passes for 735 yards and five touchdowns, the latter two numbers among the top 10 in the ACC. Oh, did we mention he missed the first seven games?

TE Clive Walford, Miami: Was there a more complete tight end in the country? The numbers say there might not be: 44 catches (third nationally), 676 yards (third), 7 TDs (third nationally). Walford did this all with a true freshman QB, too.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: Erving repeated as the ACC's blocking trophy winner, moving from left tackle to center in Game No. 10 this season and staying there, further showing his value to a unit that had dealt with interior injuries but came on strong late to help running back Dalvin Cook bloom into one of the country's finest freshmen.

OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Clemmings ought to get at least a piece of James Conner's player of the year trophy. The converted defensive end was among the nation's most improved players, starting every game for the second season in a row while using his athleticism to ace a position switch he had resisted earlier in his career.

C Andy Gallik, Boston College: BC lost a Heisman finalist at running back and actually improved its rushing totals this season. A dual-threat QB explains part of that, but so, too, does a powerful offensive line, led by Gallik in the middle, who helped pave the way for the league's No. 2 rushing attack.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: The only ACC team that rushed for more than BC? The only one that kept its QB unscathed more than Duke? The Yellow Jackets are the answer to both, with Mason captaining an oft-overlooked unit that was absolutely integral to the program's resurgence this season while running its famed triple-option attack.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The future pro turned in his best season yet, helping a Blue Devils offensive line that anchored a balanced offensive attack and kept QB Anthony Boone upright all season long, as Duke surrendered just 13 sacks, tied for 11th-best nationally.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The reigning Heisman winner was not as sharp as last season, but he once again put up big numbers (3,559 yards, 24 TDs) while leading FSU to another perfect mark. Winston is 26-0 for his career as a starter. You simply cannot beat that.

RB James Conner, Pitt: The ACC player of the year rewrote the Pitt record books -- no easy feat for a place that boasts names like Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 TDs, responding to each defense's best shot game after game.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Like Conner, Johnson set himself above his peers at a program that has produced plenty of great running backs. Coming off an injury-shortened 2013 season, the junior ran for 1,520 yards and 13 TDs, becoming Miami's all-time leading rusher and its career leader in all-purpose yards.

Defense

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The ACC's defensive player of the year has seen his decision to return for his senior season pay off, as Beasley led the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5) while making Clemson's defense the top-ranked unit nationally.

DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Who can forget Goldman forcing a Clemson fumble late to keep FSU's perfect season alive? The junior was in the right place at the right time often, a versatile threat who moved back inside this season after playing end. He dominated the line of scrimmage, and one just needs to look at how FSU fared without Goldman -- giving up 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech as he went down early -- to see his value.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: Ends might get all the stats and glory, but Jarrett's impact on offenses might have been as big as Beasley's, as he helped form arguably the top defensive line in the country. Jarrett had 6.5 TFLs and 11 QB hurries, freeing up those around him and making running the ball next to impossible down the stretch for opponents.

LB David Helton, Duke: The senior led the ACC in tackles (125) and ranked 11th nationally. Helton helped Duke overcome the preseason loss of linebacker Kelby Brown and led a unit that continued its ascension under coordinator Jim Knowles, finishing fifth in the ACC in scoring average (20.6 ppg), and 20th nationally.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: A step-up in competition for Mauldin and the Cardinals meant even better results, as the hybrid notched a career-best 45 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (13), while notching 6.5 sacks. Louisville's defense was one of the most surprising units in the country this season in its first year under coordinator Todd Grantham, ranking No. 6 nationally.

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: The leading tackler (73) on the nation's top defense, Anthony impacted games in a number of ways for the Tigers, making 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage while forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: The senior led the Hurricanes in virtually ever major category: Tackles (102), TFLs (8.5) and forced fumbles (3) among them. He validated his decision to return after last season, recording yet another 100-tackle season and making his case as perhaps the top linebacker in the ACC.

S Gerod Holliman, Louisville: Fourteen interceptions. Fourteen! What more needs to be said? Holliman broke the ACC record and tied the NCAA mark. He had four multi-pick games, including a three-pick performance at BC. And he did this all after transitioning from corner to safety under Grantham's tutelage.

S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: The sophomore made big play after big play, giving FSU's D an edge at the star position. He clinched the Miami game with a late pick and had two on the season to go with two forced fumbles, 11 break-ups, 13 passes defended and 9.5 TFLs. He blocked a kick, too.

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: The last in line of the storied Fuller family to come through Blacksburg, the sophomore showed plenty of the same NFL promise that has guided his older brothers. One of only a handful of Hokies to start every game, Fuller finished second in the ACC in passes defended (15), recorded 4.5 TFLs and recovered one fumble.

CB Garry Peters, Clemson: As overlooked as one can be on a defense loaded with stars, Peters quietly executed his job to a T, picking off one pass, breaking up 11 and defending 12. He forced a fumble and managed eight TFLs as well on a pass defense that ranked No. 3 nationally.

Special teams

K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Just another year at the office for Aguayo: 25-of-27 on field-goal attempts, perfect on extra points and a number of crucial kicks, which wasn't always required last year when he first stepped into the national spotlight. Aguayo is a whopping 46-of-49 for his career on field-goal attempts.

P Will Monday, Duke: Monday averaged 43.4 yards per punt, with 12 of his boots going for 50 or more yards. Eight of his punts were touchbacks, 19 were fair caught and 17 were inside the 20-yard line.

KR DeVon Edwards, Duke: Edwards averaged 25.4 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard touchdown in a high-scoring affair at Pitt, which the Blue Devils ended up winning in OT.

AP Tyler Boyd, Pitt: Boyd was a jack-of-all trades for Pitt, catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the ACC's top punt returner, averaging 10.8 yards per return, which ranked 15th nationally.

All-ACC team, coaches' awards unveiled

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
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The ACC coaches' awards and all-conference teams looked a lot like the media's version from last week, as Pitt running back James Conner led the way by winning offensive and overall player of the year honors.

Likewise, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley one again took home defensive player of the year honors, while Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was named both overall and offensive rookie of the year. Virginia safety Quin Blanding was again named defensive rookie of the year.

Coach of the year? That would be Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, who received 10 of the 14 votes from his peers.

Defending national champion Florida State led the way in all-league teams, tallying 18 players across the three teams.

The team with the second-most? Virginia, surprisingly enough, as the Cavaliers landed nine players on the all-league teams despite finishing with a 5-7 record.

First-team

WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
TE: Nick O’Leary (FSU)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre' Jackson (FSU)
C: Shane McDermott (Miami)
QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
SP: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
LB: Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: Garry Peters (Clemson)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)


To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest differences between the coaches' and media's voting: Boston College center Andy Gallik was relegated to the second team this time around, with Miami's Shane McDermott taking the top spot on the coaches' team. McDermott received only honorable mention status from the media last week. Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin was also a first-team newcomer, replacing Duke's David Helton, who made the media's first-team and who took home some pretty impressive hardware of his own Tuesday night in New York. Clemson cornerback Garry Peters was also a first-team addition, leaping the media's selection of FSU's P.J. Williams.

Louisville receiver DeVante Parker made the coaches' second-team after playing in just five games. Parker had made the media's third-team. The coaches flipped the media's second- and third-team quarterbacks, putting Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas on the second-team and North Carolina's Marquise Williams on the third-team.

The coaches' third-team ended up containing five linebackers, as four tied in the voting, as well as two cornerbacks and two punters.

To see the media's All-ACC picks from last week, click here.
In what world would any team want to play the Oregon Ducks? The same Ducks who finished the season 12-1 and destroyed the only team that dared beat them, Arizona, in a Pac-12 title game rematch on Friday.

For No. 3 Florida State, that is your reward for a second straight undefeated season and third consecutive ACC title. Hop on a cross-country flight to the No. 2 Ducks’ backyard for the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual in a New Year’s Day College Football Playoff semifinal.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesFfreshman running back Dalvin Cook has become a key cog for the Seminoles.
And yet, maybe it is the better of the two possible scenarios for Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles. The reality is they were never going to be ranked No. 1 and the selection committee was asked to pick FSU’s poison: Alabama or Oregon.

“Wherever you’re ranked right now, I don’t know if it matters,” Fisher said. “Every team in this playoff is a great team.”

He’s right, of course. It sounds crazy -- and maybe it is considering Oregon is outscoring opponents by almost 24 points per game -- but football is a game of matchups, and the Seminoles are better off against the Ducks, an early 8.5-point favorite.

Oregon’s offense is “off the charts,” Fisher said, but the Seminoles have the luxury of three-week period to prepare for the Ducks’ dynamic spread. Although no offense is soaring quite like the Ducks’, Florida State’s last three games have been against Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech. All or some of those teams are predicated on the run, have mobile quarterbacks, use a lot of misdirection and run some variance of the option.

With Fisher expecting defensive tackle Eddie Goldman to be able to play, the Seminoles have the size, length and athleticism along the defensive line to pose problems for Oregon’s spread. Goldman is among the country’s best defensive tackles, and few defensive ends can control the edge like 300-pound junior Mario Edwards, who can do a standing backflip. He will have to funnel plays inside because Oregon averages 6.9 yards per rush outside the tackles. Oregon is statistically better rushing between the tackles than Alabama, too, but dreadlocked wrecking ball Derrick Henry could ravage an already thin FSU defensive front.

The running game is peaking for the Seminoles, too. True freshman running back Dalvin Cook has emerged as one of the Seminoles’ elite players, totaling 392 yards over his last two games and winning MVP of the ACC championship.

The Ducks are above average against the run in 2014, ranking 57th in yards per rush (4.12), but, Alabama ranks third nationally with an average of 2.81 yards allowed. The Ducks have also been a little bit more vulnerable in the beginning of games before they put games out of reach. Oregon allows 4.26 yards per carry in the first half but have a sub-4.0 average in the second. The Ducks have not been great on first down either, allowing nearly 5 yards per rush on first downs.

“Dalvin’s just getting better and better as each week goes by,” Seminoles senior center Cameron Erving told reporters after the game. “He’s a dynamic player. He can break tackles. He’s fast. He’s elusive. There are not enough positive things you can say about Dalvin.”

And really, who wants to match wits with Nick Saban in a championship-like setting? Saban is 5-1 in SEC title games and 4-0 in national title games when he has had weeks to prepare. That’s not knocking Mark Helfrich, who has only three losses in two seasons as head coach, but Saban has earned the $7 million check with his performances in championship games. Alabama has won all three of its national championships under Saban by at least 16 points.

All that said, there are certainly areas the Ducks can exploit the Seminoles. Florida State’s linebackers are not nearly as athletic or fast as a year ago and missed tackles have plagued the unit. Starters Matthew Thomas and Terrance Smith are not 100 percent either.

Offensively, Florida State ranks 116th out of 128 FBS teams with 27 turnovers while the Ducks have turned it over only twice. The Ducks are averaging 9.2 points off turnovers per game this season, ranked eighth in the country and have allowed only 13 total points all season off their own mistakes.

It’s an unenviable “Would You Rather” scenario for Florida State with only Alabama and Oregon as the options, but the Seminoles might matchup better -- even if just slightly -- against the Ducks.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Florida State band played the 1970s classic “Still the One” while players celebrated and a posse of photographers trailed behind Jameis Winston, documenting his every turn.

Winston jogged around giddily but with a glint in his eye on Saturday night while hugging teammates and screaming, “We can’t help that we them boys!”

You think Winston and his teammates have ignored what has happened over the past week? That defiant statement said everything the Seminoles believe but would never say behind a podium. The outside world wants them to lose? Florida State shrugs its shoulders and laughs its way to another win.

As herky-jerky as the Seminoles have looked at times, they unequivocally deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff after beating No. 11 Georgia Tech 37-35 for their third straight ACC championship.

Florida State has won 29 straight and is the only 13-0 team from a Power 5 conference. It would be neglectful of its responsibilities if the selection committee decides to leave the defending national champions out because they did not throttle their opponents enough.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston proved clutch on Saturday night, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
The seeding might end up being semantic when released later Sunday, even though it feels like blatant disrespect. Florida State wants in; currently ranked fourth, Florida State will most likely be in; and then, well, its critics will find out whether the Seminoles deserve that spot.

“I’m not worried about being No. 1,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’ll be in the playoff. That’s what matters. That’s an opinion. Ours are facts.”

No matter how much people spout facts about Florida State, the overriding feel from those outside Florida State and the ACC is that the Seminoles have skated by on pure luck. Injuries Ohio State and Oregon have had to overcome are endlessly discussed and praised.

Yet nobody has even discussed how remarkable it is that this winning streak remains intact, given the hurdles this team has overcome. The Seminoles are facing every team’s best effort and new wrinkles, too, which force halftime adjustments that have been key to several comeback wins. Fisher has grown the most in this aspect as a head coach; had he not, Florida State would have lost at least once this season.

The Seminoles have been hit with key injuries, too, which mostly decimated their defensive front.

It happened again Saturday night, when starting tackle Eddie Goldman was hurt in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game.

If there was one defensive player Florida State could not afford to lose while facing the triple-option, it was Goldman. Florida State struggled without him initially, as Georgia Tech marched up and down the field with ease and scored touchdowns on its first three possessions.

But the difference in this game was the offense stayed out of its own way for the first time in quite some time. Freshman Dalvin Cook was game MVP after rushing for 177 yards and a score. He started because Karlos Williams was out with a concussion.

Equally important was having a mistake-free Winston behind center. He played perhaps his best game of the season and went 21-of-30 for 309 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a crucial performance after his miserable four-interception game a week ago against Florida.

Florida State was able to match Georgia Tech score for score until its defense made enough adjustments with Goldman out to contain the powerful Jackets’ rush offense.

“I just felt I probably needed that [against Florida] because there’s always adversity that you’ve got to face,” Winston said. “Florida was a great team, as well as Georgia Tech, but sometimes you’ve just got to calm down, get back in the rhythm of things and get the ball to a guy like Dalvin Cook a couple more times and let him do his thing.”

Then there is the mounting pressure Florida State has faced with every win, along with the mounting scrutiny. Fisher said this was the first game in which he really saw his team take a step back and relax.

“After we won last week," he said, "I felt like a burden came off this team. Because I saw them loosen up. … You can see the finish line.”

Florida State is not going to magically change. It plays close games; it wins close games. It has victories over three top 25 opponents and nine bowl-eligible teams. That might not be good enough to be No. 1 in the CFP committee’s eyes, but it should be good enough to get into the playoff.

“We smelled the roses,” receiver Rashad Greene said of winning another ACC title. “Now we’re back smelling the dirt. So it’s time to grind.”

Now that the postseason is upon it, Florida State plans to prove it is, indeed, still the one.
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

Florida State once again led the way with 17 players named, including 10 named first-team All-ACC. Duke had nine players named, Virginia had eight, and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech had seven.

The most noteworthy first-team selection was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a second straight undefeated season, but also leads the league in interceptions. The battle for the top spot at quarterback was particularly close, with UNC's Marquise Williams (second team), Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas (third team), Miami's Brad Kaaya, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and NC State's Jacoby Brissett all having strong seasons, too.

Here's the first-team All-ACC selections:

QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre Jackson (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: David Helton (Duke)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: P.J. Williams (FSU)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)

K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
Ret: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

Miami tight end Clive Walford is a Mackey Award finalist and has more yards, touchdowns and first downs and caught a higher percentage of his targets than fellow Mackey Finalist, Nick O'Leary. Still, O'Leary was named to the first team.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was a third-team selection thanks to missing the first seven games of the season, but he ranks seventh in the league in yards in spite of just playing five games.

NC State's Shadrach Thornton is third among running backs in yards (811) but was not named to any of the All-ACC teams.

BC's Josh Keyes has 11 tackles for loss — good for 12th in the conference — but was not one of the 10 linebackers named to All-ACC teams.

Wake Forest's Marquel Lee ranks 10th in the league with 12 TFLs and ninth in tackles with 101 but did not even earn an honorable mention.

Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country, helping pave the way for the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, but he was not a first-team selection.

ACC mailblog

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
4:00
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It’s Friday, so let’s dig into the mailbag to see what burning ACC questions you’ve got for us...

Nick in Fort Lauderdale writes: Could an undefeated Florida State actually get left out of the playoffs? … I can see Mississippi State staying in the top four with a loss to Alabama. If the committee will jump Oregon over an undefeated FSU, then why not TCU, and that could push FSU out of the top four altogether.

David Hale: I just don’t buy that talk. Credibility is going to be a concern for the committee in Year 1 for obvious reasons, and leaving out a defending national champ without a loss just seems like it would undermine so much of what the playoff was created to accomplish. I agree with you that a loss might doom FSU’s season, but until that happens, I think the Seminoles are safe. Besides, TCU’s remaining schedule is atrocious, so if the Horned Frogs were going to jump Florida State, it would’ve had to have happened already.


Vinny writes: FSU has always tried to rotate D-linemen, but it seems they aren’t using guys like [Justin] Justin Shanks and [Keith] Keith Bryant as much. Matchup? Scheme? Injuries? Also, do you think Mario Edwards would be more effective from the tackle spot?

David Hale: Scheme has a lot to do with this. When Mark Stoops left for Kentucky, the defensive scheme changed a lot, and the Seminoles have worked so much in nickel packages this year, we’re seeing a lot fewer snaps for the down linemen. Add the fact that you have two stars in Edwards and Eddie Goldman, and the drop-off in talent for those rotations is much more noticeable. With the injuries and inexperience at linebacker, keeping those guys on the field is paramount. Shanks was also banged up early in the year and hasn’t quite recovered that playing time, while Bryant perhaps hasn’t developed quite as quickly as Derrick Nnadi and Desmond Hollin. As for Edwards, he's such a mismatch where he is because of his size-speed combination. I think that's the best spot for him.


Steve in New Jersey writes: Can you tell me what is going wrong with my Hokies? Is it the talent? Bad Coaching? Bad playing? Or all the above?

David Hale: It’s a lot of factors — as it almost always is when a program declines steeply — which makes it harder to isolate one thing that needs to change. I think Virginia Tech has a lot more talent this year than the last few, and I’d credit Frank Beamer for giving so much playing time to young players. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in those scenarios, but in the long run, it will be a big benefit for the Hokies.

Beyond that though, I think there are two big concerns: The first is injuries. Virginia Tech has been devastated by them this year, and the hope should be that the bad luck evens out in 2015. The second is the offensive line, which has been a massive disappointment throughout the last few years. The run-blocking has been really bad, and without a steady run game, the Hokies are going to have a tough time getting back to 10 wins. The recruiting philosophy has shifted a bit and Stacy Searels is a good coach, but that part will take some time.


Dave in VT Land writes: So, it looks like the alphabetical listing of the Coastal Division teams is turning out to be the most accurate prediction! Who'd have thought?

David Hale: Akron is applying for Coastal Division membership as we speak… (And the Zips already have a win over Pitt!)


Jon in Atlanta writes: I cannot say enough on how surprised I am to see Georgia Tech with seven wins. Early in the season, I would have laughed if 7-8 wins this season was even mentioned. With a really good recruiting class coming in, how good do you see GT getting down the road?

David Hale: I’m not sure any team in the country has exceeded my expectations as much as Georgia Tech this season. There were just so many areas of concern entering the season, and to Paul Johnson’s credit, he’s found ways of plugging all of those holes. The D isn’t good, and that remains a big concern, but the offensive philosophy makes up for that in a lot of ways, and Justin Thomas has really added that missing element to the option. The other big knock on Johnson in recent years has been recruiting, and as you said, even that is starting to change. It’s really tough for longtime coaches to turn the tide when a program starts going south (see: Virginia Tech) but Johnson has done a splendid job of it this year.


David Hale: I’ll be surprised if Clemson isn’t the overwhelming favorite in the Atlantic to open next season because Watson is back with a very talented young offense around him. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have been exceptional this year despite the revolving door at QB, and Wayne Gallman is finally beginning to make some progress for the running game. Yes, a lot of talent will be leaving on the defensive side of the ball, but Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson and Jayson Kearse will be back to ease the transition. Meanwhile, Florida State figures to see a mass exodus of talent after this season, including the entirety of the offensive line, along with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and likely Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman.

The bottom line though is that Watson is a star in the making. He’s a perfect fit for Chad Morris’ offense, and he’ll have a good bit of talent around him, so there is plenty of cause for excitement if you’re a Clemson fan. The one big concern though: Can the Tigers keep their two coordinators?
Oregon leapfrogged Florida State in the rankings on Tuesday, which left us wondering: If these two teams were to meet on a neutral field right now, which team would come out with the win?

ACC writer Jared Shanker says it’d be FSU. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings thinks it’d be the Ducks. Debate…

Jennings: OK, let’s break this down.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesRunning back Royce Freeman has helped Oregon average over 5 yards per carry this season.
Oregon’s offense versus FSU’s defense: I’d take the Ducks by a landslide. We’ll start up front. The Seminoles are giving up 3.5 yards per rush and that’s against teams that aren’t even in the same realm as the Ducks. FSU has faced just one top-60 rushing team (NC State). Oregon, on the other hand, has the nation’s 22nd-best rushing attack, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Against the Florida State defense -- with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota taking off when need be -- it’d be chaos. FSU would have to bring guys up to try and contain the run, which would leave gaps open downfield and guys like Devon Allen and Byron Marshall are going to make those plays for the Ducks.

Oregon defense versus FSU’s offense: This is where it gets tricky. The Ducks' defense has struggled a bit and the Seminoles have a pretty talented QB of their own. Up front, I think Oregon would be OK as FSU has only averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt this season (and again, that’s against a weaker schedule). The secondary might struggle a bit more. The Seminoles average 8.5 yards per pass attempt and the Ducks have only played one team (Michigan State) that is currently averaging more.

Special teams: OK, so the Seminoles might have the best kicker in the country. But guess what, he scores three points at a time and Oregon is accustomed to scoring seven points at a time. In the return game, my money is on freshman Charles Nelson. He has been so impressive, averaging 17.6 yards per punt return, including two punts returned for touchdowns. Nelson hasn’t done as well in kick returns (just 19.2 yards per return), but I’ll give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt that he’d be returning more punts than kickoffs…

At the end of the day, I think FSU would be able to score against Oregon, but not as much as the Ducks would score on the ‘Noles. It wouldn’t be a blowout by any means, but a 7-10 point win would be what I’d put my money on.

Shanker: Everyone loves to quote the adage “defense wins championships” but nobody ever wants to apply it -- at least when it comes to the Ducks, with their turf acrobatics and kooky uniform combinations. Once again we’re blinded by the Oregon offense -- or maybe it’s the helmets.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
AP Photo/Steve CannonMario Edwards Jr. and the Florida State defense have shined in the second half of games this season.
But what happens to Oregon in low-scoring games, which championship games tend to be (the past six title games have averaged a total of 46.5 points)? The last time Oregon won a game in which it didn’t score 30 points was 2010. Since then, the Ducks have lost all six games in which they didn’t reach the 30-point plateau.

I’ll get to that Winston guy in a second, but I want to talk about the Florida State defense first. Yes, the FSU defense that ranks 50th in total defense.

The Florida State defense is not what it was a season ago. Nobody would argue that. However, it has the type of talent along the defensive front that has historically caused Oregon problems.

Mario Edwards Jr. was dominant against the spread last January. Few defensive tackles are playing better than Eddie Goldman. Those two defensive stalwarts are built to frustrate spread attacks.

Oregon is ranked 106th in total defense. Worse, the Ducks are ranked 125th in allowing passing plays that gain 10-plus yards, and Florida State has Jameis Winston, who has keyed FSU’s season. The Seminoles average 12 pass plays of at least 10 yards per game, good for ninth nationally.

And when this game is close in the fourth quarter, the smart money is on Winston. He’s been the best crunch-time quarterback, and there’s anecdotal and statistical evidence to support that. His QBR is 90.3 when trailing in the second half.

Faced with stopping the Arizona offense in the second half of a close game, Oregon allowed three touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.

Take away Oklahoma State’s 21-point second half in the opener, and Florida State is allowing just 9.3 points in the second half against FBS teams this season.

Those are the marks of a team that is resilient, which is synonymous with unimpressive, at least when talking about Florida State. The adjective is normally applied to only Oregon, which has rebounded so strongly from the adversity of losing … and winners of low-scoring SEC games (this fulfills the requisite SEC jab).

So, if these two ever met on a neutral field, give me the Seminoles.
Florida State has had some recent struggles stopping the run, though last week provided a measure of relief.

The Seminoles slowed down Virginia back Kevin Parks, holding him to just 43 yards. FSU held the Cavaliers to 37 total yards rushing -- a season low for the Noles' D.

On Monday, local reporters asked Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. whether that performance showed the defense had turned a corner.

"That's Virginia and this is Miami," he said.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesStopping Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, which averages just under 200 yards per game, is the primary task for Florida State's defense.
If there is one thing Miami is certain to do Saturday when the two teams play, it is run the ball with Duke Johnson. Not only has Johnson posted five straight 100-yard games, Miami is playing more physically and aggressively on the offensive line despite missing several key players because of injury.

The result is the most productive Miami run game in years. The Hurricanes are averaging 199.6 yards per game on the ground, their highest average since the 2001 national championship team.

It all starts with Johnson, so the primary objective is to stop him at all costs.

"You have to make them one dimensional," Edwards said. They’re good with position blocking. They want to get in front of you and turn you where Duke can cut off them and make a play.

"Duke is one of those backs you really don’t see. He can make a cut or stop and get back to full speed within two strides, and once he makes a cut and gets through a gap you can pretty much kiss the baby -- he’s going to be gone."

Despite the Virginia result, there has been some cause for concern with the Florida State run defense. The Seminoles are thin up front and have had injuries in a linebacker unit that has taken a step back from a year ago.

Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston and Louisville running back Michael Dyer each ran for over 100 yards, meaning the Noles have allowed 100 yard rushers twice in the last three games.

"Some of the players, including myself, stepped up and said, 'This isn’t Florida State football, it’s not the way we play.'" Edwards said. "We challenged each other to play the way we need to and come back and win."

As colleague Jared Shanker points out, Florida State has made successful halftime adjustments throughout the course of the season, especially on run defense. After allowing big rushing totals in the first half against Clemson, Notre Dame and Louisville, the Noles tightened up in the second half, as all three had fewer second half rushing yards.

Still, it is strange to see Florida State in the middle of the pack among rush defenses in the ACC, ranking No. 7 (and No. 35 in the country). Florida State is giving up an average of 135.7 yards per game on the ground. That is not terrible, but not nearly as good as in years past. The last time FSU gave up that many yards per game was 2009.

Still, Fisher and his players believe they see improvement.

"You’re talking about a lot of guys that haven’t really had to carry that big burden on their back," Fisher said. "Reggie Northrup makes tackles, but he never had to play any significant time last year when he was on defense. Terrance [Smith] did, but he’s been off and on hurt. Eddie [Goldman] did, but he wasn’t counted on to be like Timmy [Jernigan] was, which he’s playing like. Now Mario has really grown into that role and gotten healthy and got his weight down. Losing Nile [Lawrence-Stample] I thought was really a huge loss for us inside because he was playing extremely well. Desmond Hollin's doing a good job. I think their experience and confidence is growing.”

Good timing, considering the challenge they face to try and stop Johnson.

ACC reporter Jared Shanker contributed to this report.

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:30
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

ACC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
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It appears things are getting a bit salty between a pair of ACC coaches.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.

"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."

As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.

None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.

Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.

On to the rest of your ACC links ...

FSU shaky, but still unbeaten

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
10:35
PM ET
video 
The day began with Jameis Winston strutting onto the field at Carter-Finley Stadium and announcing his return from a one-game suspension with a jubilant shout of “I’m back” to no one in particular.

Winston followed the announcement with a dynamic performance. He threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns and added a 20-yard run to convert a crucial third down to ice the game. But when the 56-41 Florida State victory was finally in the books, the question remained: Are the Seminoles back?

A team that dominated nearly every opponent it faced a year ago trailed at the half for the second straight week. That hadn’t happened since 2011.

An NC State team that was thoroughly manhandled by Florida State’s defense a year ago posted 24 first-quarter points and etched its name into a dark column of the Seminoles’ record books.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJameis Winston finished with 365 passing yards and four touchdowns in his return to the lineup.
Winston’s Heisman campaign the past season was built upon a highlight reel of dizzying escape acts and circus throws, but on Saturday, it was his counterpart who earned the oohs and aahs. Jacoby Brissett dodged one tackle after another and added runs of 19 and 36 yards to his 359 yards passing and three touchdowns.

It was a win for Florida State, and that was good, but even the Seminoles admit this isn’t how the country’s top-ranked team is supposed to look.

“It was very fun, but that’s not Florida State football,” tailback Karlos Williams said. “We’re not used to that. That’s not the way we play football here. We’ve got to start fast [and] finish faster.”

This wasn’t Florida State’s style, at least not compared to the juggernaut that pummeled all comers the past season.

Winston’s final numbers were impressive, but he turned the ball over three times.

Rashad Greene had another stellar outing as the team’s go-to receiver, but he flubbed a punt return that led to an NC State score.

The defense made some crucial stops late in the game, including a forced fumble by Jalen Ramsey, as NC State drove toward the red zone with a chance to pull within four midway through the fourth quarter. But the unit that was so dominant the past season allowed a whopping 520 yards to the Wolfpack -- the most an FSU defense had surrendered since 2009.

“It all starts with we’ve all got to want it,” linebacker Reggie Northrup said. “I don’t feel like we’re that far, but we’ve got a ways [to go]. Ability-wise, we’re there. But it’s your will, paying attention to detail, making sure we execute better.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Jimbo Fisher, too. He’s got talented athletes all over the field right now, he said. But he’s looking for talented football players, and this group remains very much a work in progress.

There was, of course, ample silver lining. Freshmen defensive linemen Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh had strong performances and offered some hope the Seminoles’ woes on the defensive line can be addressed. The stable of young receivers finally provided an adequate complement to Greene on the outside. The running game, led by Williams and Dalvin Cook, had its most impressive performance of the year.

Oh, but this wasn’t a team that was supposed to need silver linings. This was a team that was supposed to set the cruise control and head directly to the College Football Playoff. Instead, Saturday’s chaos in Raleigh was actually the easiest win -- by final margin, anyway -- that FSU has had against an FBS opponent so far this season.

This clearly isn’t last year’s Florida State.

“This year, we have to create our own identity,” Eddie Goldman said. “We’re not trying to live off last year’s team. We have to do our own thing.”

Perhaps that’s how Winston can be encouraged after a game such as this. Compared to the past year’s team, it was ugly. But compared to a loss -- something that had happened in this house of horrors for Florida State five times in its past eight trips to Carter-Finley -- it was a thing of beauty.

“That was a beautiful game, man,” he said. “We overcame a lot. It’s fun when you see that. It’s heartbreaking to the other team when they think they’ve got us on the ropes, and we come back and fight. But that’s the true meaning of being a warrior and doing whatever it takes to win football games.”

Doeren calls FSU DT football's best

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
4:00
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Karlos Williams is 6-foot-1 and, conservatively, weighs about 225 pounds. He’s played safety and linebacker at Florida State before flipping to running back. So, he doesn’t shy from contact and enjoys delivering a shoulder.

Unless it is in practice, and he sees No. 90 flash in front of his eyes. If Eddie Goldman, the No. 1 Seminoles’ top defensive tackle, is coming toward him, Williams cringes.

“I’ve asked him several times ‘Please don’t hit me during team run, please calm down’” Williams said. “He’s a ticking time bomb.”

Goldman is the Seminoles’ under-the-radar talent who is now being asked to lead a defense that is still finding its bearings. Gone are Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith and former defensive tackle mate Timmy Jernigan.

The interior of the defensive line has been criticized early in the season, though. Goldman hears it, even if he does his best to brush it off. And then he allowed his performance against then-No. 22 Clemson last weekend to answer any questions about his level of play. Statistically, Goldman said, it is the best he’s ever played as he registered a sack and forced a fumble.

Late in the fourth quarter just as the Tigers were setting up for the game-winning score, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Goldman forced a fumble. In overtime, he blew through the offensive line and stopped a fourth-and-inches rush. His biggest play, however, was maybe one he didn’t make. He crushed the Clemson center from inside the 1-yard line in the third quarter but was a touch offside.

“Don’t think that wasn’t on [the center’s] mind the next snap,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said.

That next snap was one that sailed over Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s head. The Tigers wouldn’t score.

“Goldman is probably the best defensive tackle in college football,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren, tasked with game-planning for Goldman this Saturday. “Right now nobody can block their defensive tackle. That guy is killing people.”

It reminded Fisher of “an old guy we had around here a year ago.”

Fisher is referring to Jernigan, who was second-team AP All-American and then a second-round pick in May’s NFL draft. While Goldman is bigger than Jernigan, he still fit under Jernigan’s wing in Tallahassee.

On and off the field, Jernigan was pivotal in Goldman’s development. Jernigan showed Goldman how to play aggressively, despite the insistence from his teammates to the contrast.

“His intensity and attitude towards the game, he has a certain type of aggressive, mean demeanor about himself,” Goldman said of Jernigan. “And he studied film a lot. … We’ll watch TV copies of games to hear the snap count or watch offensive linemen’s mannerisms to indicate where he’ll step and when he’ll snap the ball.”

And then Goldman will run them over. Ask Clemson.

ACC morning links

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
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East Carolina has this way of, you know, beating teams in the ACC. And it has no shame in reminding the teams it has vanquished.

A billboard has popped up in Winterville, North Carolina, taking a shot at the North Carolina Tar Heels, after the Pirates demolished them for the second straight season.



This is reminiscent of what East Carolina did last year after beating NC State. The Pirates have room to brag considering their success recently. They also beat Virginia Tech this season.

By the way, if you're wondering what the #beneathwho is all about, it's a response to this quote from last week:



For North Carolina, there is absolutely nothing to brag about now. The loss was so ugly, it is being left on the cutting room floor. According to The Daily Tar Heel, linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said of the tape, "You know, we didn’t even watch it. Coach (Larry) Fedora left it up to the position coach to make that decision. Since we ran a little different scheme than we do normally, there’s no need to dwell on it, too.”

After stumbling early last season, North Carolina recovered to make a bowl game. But the looming stretch looks more challenging than anything the Tar Heels faced year, beginning Saturday at Clemson. As Fedora said, "The true test of a man is finding out who you are. Until you’re really tested, you don’t know. But when you are tested, the true man comes out. It’s who you are. You can’t hide it at that point. And why would you want to hide it?"
The last time Florida State lost a game, Jacoby Brissett was on the winning side.

This was in the waning days of Brissett’s time at Florida, in November 2012, at a point when it was becoming obvious he’d never get his chance to be on the field and lead an offense. He’d come to Florida for games like this, but it wasn’t his time.

In the time since, Florida State has won 19 straight games, and Brissett has played in just four. But those four games have been impressive, and the new starting quarterback at NC State is eager to finally get his chance to showcase his offense on a national stage. The Wolfpack plays host to the top-ranked Seminoles on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2).

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeJacoby Brissett has 10 TD passes and just one interception in NC State's 4-0 start.
Brissett leads the ACC in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passer rating. Since a first-half interception in NC State’s opener against Georgia Southern, Brissett has tossed 108 straight passes without a pick -- the second-longest active streak in the nation.

But for the young Wolfpack, that showcase game hasn’t happened yet. The highest-ranked opponent NC State has faced, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, was Georgia Southern (68) and that leaves plenty of room for doubters and plenty of questions -- even within the locker room.

Brissett has played well, and he has been around big games before, but this is a new experience.

“I haven’t played in a game like this,” Brissett said. “I can’t sit here and tell you I have the answers. I don’t.”

Through four games, though, Brissett has been exactly the answer NC State’s offense was looking for.

A year ago, Brissett was relegated to the sidelines after his transfer from Florida forced a redshirt season. On the field, NC State was a disaster. First-year coach Dave Doeren didn’t have a quarterback to fit his offense, didn’t have the receivers to make plays, didn’t have the bruisers in the trenches to open up running lanes. The result was a winless season in ACC play.

This year, things have changed, and it starts with Brissett.

“We’re able to be balanced because we can throw and catch,” Doeren said. “We couldn’t do that last year. You’re having some consistency in your front five and you have a quarterback that balances your offense.”

That balance won’t come quite so easily against Florida State. Brissett hasn’t attempted more than three passes against the blitz in any game so far this season, but the Seminoles are apt to bring pressure. Brissett hasn’t been rattled by a pass rush, but Doeren called FSU’s Eddie Goldman “the best defensive tackle in college football.” The ground game is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, but Doeren remembers last season, when NC State averaged less than 2 yards per carry in the first half against FSU, with one-third of its rushes dropped for a loss. The Wolfpack went to the locker room trailing 42-0.

The Seminoles’ defense hasn’t looked quite so strong this season, and Brissett changes the dynamic for NC State. But that’s a wide gap to close.

“Last year, they kicked our butts,” Doeren said. “I hope its a better matchup, for our sake, but I still see first-round draft picks all over the field for them.”

Brissett isn’t interested in that history, though. He’s not interested in the game two years ago when No. 3 Florida State fell to an unranked NC State in Raleigh. And he’s not interested in his time watching his former teammates at Florida upend the Seminoles either.

This is a fresh start for NC State, and that means anything is possible. That means hope, even if it doesn’t offer many assurances -- even for Brissett.

“We’ll have to see how he responds,” Doeren said of his QB. “They’re the No. 1 team in the nation, and it’s not every day you get to see a team like that. He’s won state championships in basketball and football. He’s brought us back in two games we were losing, so I think he’s a gamer. But this is a different test against a really good football team.”

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