ACC: Florida gators

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

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

3:30 p.m.

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

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

7 p.m.

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

Week 2: Did ACC tilt balance of power?

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
11:00
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Miami Hurricanes Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesThe Miami Hurricanes celebrated an upset win over the Florida Gators on Sept. 7.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double-issue on Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week's biggest moments and tell you why they'll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


ON PAPER, Week 2 didn't exactly appear overrun with BCS-altering showdowns. But by the time the final whistle had blown in the Pacific time zone, there were indeed dashed postseason hopes scattered among the wreckage.

If Week 1 was the Saturday that the FCS-FBS line officially blurred, then Week 2 was the Saturday that the BCS storylines officially started to take shape. Let’s just call it Power Shift Saturday. And let’s start in South Florida.

The previous five times the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes played, the winner finished the season ranked in the top 5 in the AP poll. The programs have been on-again, off-again rivals, part of a longstanding, round-robin tourney (along with Florida State) to be the kings of the Sunshine State.

Sensing that this will be the final regular-season matchup between the two teams for the foreseeable future, the oft-maligned Sun Life Stadium crowd actually showed up. Officials even uncovered extra seats, a practice normally reserved for the Orange Bowl, not Hurricanes fans who don’t typically bother with the drive from Coral Gables.

With the heightened stakes, the blood was up early on both sidelines -- early as in before the game started. During warm-ups, the two teams started edging closer and the jawing became so intense that game officials had to give a polite warning. “There was so much smack talk, I can’t even describe it,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said after the game.

To open the game, the Gators' offense, led by Jeff Driskel, marched down the field on an eight-play drive, only to fumble in Miami territory. They marched again on a seven-play drive that bled into the second quarter, only to have Driskel throw a pick inside the Miami 5. And again they marched, only to have an 11-play drive stall after a failed fourth-and-1 at the Miami 16. Finally, a 12-play drive ended on a Trey Burton fumble in the red zone, with less than a minute to play in the half.

Still, the Gators' defense gave the offense a chance to win, eventually locking down what started as a runaway Hurricanes offense and limiting them to less than 2 yards per rush.

With seven minutes remaining in the game, Miami led 14-9, but Florida was driving (again), with a third-and-3 at the Canes’ 16-yard line. Driskel took the snap from the shotgun and immediately fell into the habit that plagued him all day: His eyes betrayed him.

As soon as he had the ball, he was looking right, where two wide receivers were running quick outs. With an onrushing Miami defender in his face, Driskel rocketed a pass toward the sideline and wideout Quinton Dunbar, who was at the Miami 7, just beginning his turn to the quarterback.

“This is where you see Driskel get himself into trouble as a one-level thinker,” an NFL scout told me on Sunday, watching film of the play on my laptop. “It’s a boom-boom play; he’s not supposed to take a lot of time, but damn, he never even considered another option. He already had his mind made up who the ball was going to, come hell or high water.”

The play had a designed safety valve, which was Burton, running toward the sideline at the 12. Instead, Driskel fired it past Burton to Dunbar, who was cut inside by cornerback Tracy Howard, who essentially iced the game with an interception. The Gators did get the ball back, but turned it over (again), this time on a Driskel fumble deep in their own territory. Florida’s final TD made the 21-16 result look closer than the game was.

“[Driskel] does this the whole game,” the scout said, taking my laptop and scrolling back to the second quarter, when Driskel appeared to be first-option only, gunning blindly into nearly quadruple-coverage for an INT. “That play was designed to the running back on the left. If he’s not there, then he’s got a clear out to run. But again, he’d decided where he was going with it before the play even started. You can’t be a real title contender like that. Did you see Tennessee against Western Kentucky? Ball hawks. That team might intercept this kid five times.”

If the Vols do so on Sept. 21 in Gainesville, Florida -- which dropped from No. 12 to No. 18 in the AP poll -- is nearly guaranteed an opening SEC loss. During the Will Muschamp era, the Gators are 19-9. In those 19 wins, they’ve committed 18 turnovers, good for a plus-20 turnover margin. In the nine loses, that margin falls to minus-21.

As for the power shift, The U scored its first win against a top-15 opponent since 2009 and easily its biggest since knocking off No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2005. The Canes, which went from unranked to No. 15 in the poll after the win, reinforced the ACC media’s preseason decision to vote them as the Coastal Division favorites. But more importantly, they reinforced the ACC itself. For the second straight week, the conference knocked off a highly ranked SEC foe. The coach who earned that first power-shifting win was quick to acknowledge the trend.

“How about that ACC?” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said as he wrapped up his postgame news conference Saturday after trouncing South Carolina State. “Spunky little league.”

Then he threw up Miami’s trademark "U" hand gesture and walked off the stage.

Of course, he doesn’t have to face the Canes during the regular season, unlike Jimbo Fisher and Florida State, who do on Nov. 2.


  • Georgia, the team that Swinney and Clemson beat Aug. 31, last week knocked off the team that the Tigers hope to beat on Nov. 30: Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina. The Dawgs’ 41-30 win over the then-No. 6 Gamecocks also indicated a significant power shift. UGA snapped a maddening three-game losing streak to its SEC East rival. Yes, Georgia still managed to make the SEC title game the past two years, but the South Carolina losses always dogged its potential BCS title game status. Should Aaron Murray and company return to Atlanta this season, they still will have the Clemson loss hanging over them. But if the Tigers win out (they will certainly be favored in all of their remaining games), then they could potentially meet the Dawgs again in Pasadena. Then again, South Carolina could ruin the party for both if it beats Clemson in Columbia, something it has done in four straight seasons.
  • Michigan’s 41-30 victory over Notre Dame signified a bit of a power shift: The Wolverines managed to beat a ranked opponent, something they did only once in five tries last season. Meanwhile, the Irish, who were ranked No. 14 last week, failed their first test of 2013 after beating an all-star list of schools during their improbable unranked-to-BCS title game run of 2012. Last season, Michigan lost to South Carolina (No. 11), Ohio State (No. 4), Alabama (No. 2) and yes, Notre Dame (No. 11). Now both teams have done something they couldn’t a year ago -- one beat a ranked team, and the other lost a regular-season game.
  • Speaking of power shifts ... was it really just eight years ago that Texas and USC played for the national title at the Rose Bowl? In case you need to be reminded, both suffered surprising upsets Saturday. And if you’re a member of either of those fan bases, safe to say you’re also upset. The Longhorns fired one-time wunderkind defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after just two games, a decision accelerated by BYU’s unthinkable 550-yard rushing performance. As for the Trojans’ fall (at the Coliseum, no less), the closing minutes of the loss to Mike Leach’s Washington State squad were played among "Fire Kiffin!" chants. USC has lost seven of its past nine games; Texas has dropped three of its past five.
Miami Hurricanes, Florida GatorsESPN The Magazine

Video: Game of the Week

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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Heather Dinich talks about the matchup between No. 4 Florida at No. 10 FSU.

Video: Miami assistant Art Kehoe

April, 10, 2012
4/10/12
10:30
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Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe talks about the state of college football in Florida.
College football in Florida was about swagger. About bravado. About Danny and Tim. About the U and Prime Time, about Bobby and Steve and Howard and Jimmy. About ridiculous speed. About NFL talent.

About every single program in this country being forced to change, just to keep up with the teams set on warp speed at Miami, Florida and Florida State.

But do you know who is changing now? The three revolutionaries. Or former revolutionaries. Rather than leading the pack, Miami, Florida and Florida State are collectively playing catch-up -- not just to everybody else, but to the former versions of themselves.

For the rest of Andrea Adelson's story, click here.

Virginia Tech's Williams gives offense a boost

April, 13, 2009
4/13/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Ryan Williams is exactly what Virginia Tech needs -- somebody whose play and personality could give an otherwise dreary offense a caffeinated boost.

Williams did that in the Hokies' scrimmage on Friday, not only with his 122 yards and bedazzling 80-yard touchdown on eight carries, but also with his enthusiasm. He can't stop smiling, and it's contagious. Just as important was the fact the offensive line paved the way for him. Granted, much of the rushing yards came against the second- and third-team defenses, but the Hokies' offense needed some life breathed into it, and Williams did that.

If Virginia Tech truly is going to contend for a national championship this season, odds are he's going to have to do it again. The 103rd best total offense isn't going to cut it against the likes of Florida, Texas and Oklahoma.

So much attention is placed on Florida quarterback Tim Tebow that the Gators' defense, which ranked fourth in the country in scoring defense and ninth in total defense, often doesn't get enough credit. The Gators are the blueprint for a national champion, and for too long, Virginia Tech has only had half of the equation -- Bud Foster's defense. Williams' performance in the first scrimmage was reason to believe the Hokies' offense is capable of much more this fall -- and he's fighting for the No. 2 spot at tailback behind Darren Evans.

While it wasn't an easy decision -- those on staff will tell you Williams was good enough to play last year -- redshirting Williams in 2008 not only gave him a year to prepare and learn the offense, but it also made him hungry to get on the field and show what he can do. That, in turn, will make the players around Williams better -- including the record-setting back in front of him.

Sure, it's still early -- very early -- but 80 yards on the first carry is indicative that Virginia Tech's offense got an upgrade this spring, and he comes with a smile.

Jackets' Bedford at heart of o-line this spring

April, 6, 2009
4/06/09
11:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech center Sean Bedford isn't about to utter one bad word about the Florida Gators -- not when he grew up in Gainesville, where his family attends church and is friends with "the Meyers and the Donovans."

Besides, Bedford, a preferred walk-on, is way too smart -- he's an aerospace engineering major who happens to be getting the most reps at No. 1 this spring. While much attention has been paid to the rebuilding Georgia Tech has to do on its defensive line, the Jackets' problems up front on offense have gone relatively unnoticed. With starters Dan Voss and Nick Claytor out this spring with injuries, lesser-known players like Bedford are getting a chance to make a name for themselves.

"Having guys like Dan Voss and Nick Claytor out right now, that obviously doesn't help our depth," Bedford said. "When you lose two starters like that, obviously you're going to be fighting an uphill battle. We've only got 12 guys practicing, so we're all getting a lot of reps.

"That's not a problem for anybody right now. When it's all said and done, we'll come out alright. A lot of guys who maybe wouldn't have gotten as much exposure are forced into that role right now. So I think we're all getting a good experience out of it."

At the heart of it is Bedford.

His classes currently include aircraft vehicle performance, systems dynamics and controls, aerospace structures, a circuits lab and business law (he's got minor in pre-law). At the end of the day, Bedford said learning Paul Johnson's playbook is much easier than studying for his classes.

"You don't sleep much," he said. "You don't get to go out as much as a lot of students. You have to stay in and do homework and really study a lot more. For me the biggest thing is just staying organized and staying on top of things. When you let things creep up on you, that's when it really gets difficult."

Bedford made the transition from defense last year, and got a lot of reps at the No. 2 spot, so he knows the offense.

"He's a guy that is all in," said Todd Spencer, the Jackets' co-offensive line coach. "He's one of those guys that has a zeal for excellence, he's got a volcanic ambition whatever he's doing, whether it's in the classroom, in the blocking shoots, walk through ... he's just a delight for coach (Mike) Sewak and I to be around."

Ironically, the first school to recruit him was Navy, while Johnson was still there. While Bedford could have gotten in to almost any school he wanted based on his academics, he grew up a Gator fan.

Urban Meyer's daughter, Nicole, plays volleyball with Bedford's sister, and is planning on attending Georgia Tech next year. In his room at home, Bedford has autographed pictures of himself with Meyer and Steve Spurrier. His family has had season tickets there for a while, and he can remember tailgating at the Swamp since he was about 10. This year, he made it back for the Ole Miss game, Florida's lone loss.

Bedford's world, though, is much bigger than college football, and he was ready to leave Gainesville.

"I wouldn't change it for the world," Bedford said of his decision to attend Georgia Tech. "This is exactly where I belong. This is exactly the kind of school I belong at, a smaller, more academically focused school. I wouldn't trade my teammates for anything."

Thinking out loud: The ACC's potential in '09

March, 31, 2009
3/31/09
4:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This morning's posts about ACC players working their way into the national spotlight prompted this response from T.C. in Richmond, Va., regarding the ACC this year:

Hey Heather, you know I love the blog but I'll have to kindly disagree with you on one thing: I don't think the ACC will get the national attention the fans feel we deserve this season, and here's why. Until a couple of teams can separate, they'll all just keep beating up on each other. This means finishing the regular season with 2 or more losses, and perhaps the most talented teams in the conference not even making the BCS game. I think the fans, coaches, and players in the ACC recognize how solid the conference is--top to bottom--but this whole "parity vs mediocrity" thing won't be seen the same way from the Gators, Longhorns and Trojans who dominate their conferences. So we won't get the national respect until we're more like the other big conferences. We either need to have two or three teams dominate the league and finish undefeated or with one loss, or we'll need Ole Miss and Washington to get really good. Of course having probably our best team blown out on national television against one of the SEC's disappointments doesn't help our water-cooler or sports bar arguments either. We'll get there, but I don't think we're there yet.

T.C. makes some very valid (not to mention refreshingly rational) points. Once summer camp gets under way and we learn more about each of these teams, we'll revisit this, but here are some quick reactions:

1. Agreed, the ACC will be as competitive as it was last year, if not moreso. That, in turn, will make it difficult for a team like Virginia Tech to make it through the entire schedule unscathed and finish atop the BCS standings. That said, it's not like everyone in the SEC is going to roll out the red carpet for Florida to get to the national championship, either. And Texas has a few teams it will have to play, too. Therein lies the beauty of college football -- every game matters.

2. Agreed, the ACC needs a few teams to separate and dominate in order to truly make a statement on the national level. It's close, but not quite. On the verge? Florida State. Miami. Georgia Tech. North Carolina. None of which have a senior quarterback in 2009.

3. That doesn't mean the league can't make a statement this year by doing things like beating its nonconference BCS opponents, winning its bowl games and sneaking two or three teams into the top half of the BCS standings.

4. Coaches like Paul Johnson, Butch Davis and David Cutcliffe have automatically raised the ACC's respect-o-meter a notch. Their success in 2008 is one reason the league will be watched a little more closely this season to begin with.

ACC needs to recruit better quarterbacks

January, 21, 2009
1/21/09
12:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

If people are content with the ACC being a defensive league, they will have to be content with it being an average league.

If the conference is going to take the next step, it needs to recruit better quarterbacks.

Yes, defenses win championships, but in college football there are two components essential to winning and winning big -- offensive and defensive line play, and a standout quarterback. Save for Matt Ryan last year, the ACC hasn't exactly been a quarterback factory. Michael Vick and Ken Dorsey don't count.

In this decade, you can count Ryan, Matt Schaub (Virginia, 2004 NFL draft), Philip Rivers (NC State, 2004 draft), Ron Curry (UNC, 2002 draft), Charlie Whitehurst (Clemson, 2006 draft), Adrian McPherson, (FSU 2005 draft), and Joe Hamilton (Georgia Tech, 2000 draft) as the best the ACC had to offer at the position. The last time Florida State was truly great, it had two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks in Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.

This is the conference that brought Drew Weatherford and Sean Glennon to its media day in August, two quarterbacks who, through no fault of their own, were used as backups this season.

Can Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor, Miami's Jacory Harris, FSU's Christian Ponder or NC State's Russell Wilson emerge as the league's next great quarterback? They're all good and have potential, but none of them seem to have the true wow factor that will bump them up to that elite level. Of course, they're not all running Mike Leach's offense, either. Some of the offenses in the ACC are so simplistic, it's hard for quarterbacks to flourish.

Many of the coaches in the league have committed to a defensive philosophy, and there's nothing wrong with that -- just look at how the Ravens, the Steelers and the Eagles advanced as far as they did. But an elite quarterback backed by, say, a Virginia Tech-caliber defense would do wonders to truly separate a team like the Hokies from the rest of the pack. Florida won the national title because it was ranked among the top 20 FBS schools in offense AND defense.

If you look at the teams that were in contention for the national title this year, they all had one thing in common -- excellent quarterback play. Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy -- all ranked among the top six in the country in pass efficiency. You have to scroll down the list to No. 41 until you find Russell Wilson, the first ACC quarterback listed.

Forget Heisman winner, the ACC needs to start with a legitimate Heisman contender at quarterback.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
1:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here's a look around the league:

Boston College is getting closer to naming its new head football coach. More names have reportedly been added to the mix, including Richmond coach Mike London and Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio.

The NCAA could further penalize Florida State for its academic fraud case, and regardless of the final outcome, coach Bobby Bowden is ready to hear it. He shouldn't have to wait too much longer.

While the Florida Gators keep getting things right, Miami continues to "right itself in the strangest ways," writes Dave Hyde.

Virginia coach Al Groh has been busy recruiting, and it has paid off with three commitments in the past week.

NC State picked up a recruit from the state of Georgia while the Yellow Jackets lost one.

More on the mess at Miami

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
3:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

A few quick notes out of Coral Gables today. First, there will be no more coaching changes at Miami. There seems to be a lot of speculation out there, but what's done is done.

Second, Eugene Marve, father of former Miami quarterback Robert Marve, wants to make sure there are no hard feelings between his family and the University of Miami. He acknowledged that he said some "harsh things" in reaction to the news that coach Randy Shannon has blocked his son from transferring to any other ACC, SEC or school in the state of Florida, but apologized for that.

"If I said anything to offend anyone, especially the University of Miami or Randy Shannon, that was not my intention," Eugene Marve said. "My intention is to bring forward the fairness and injustice we've received on his ruling ... Football is a very emotional game, and I might have said some emotional comments."

Marve said there are reasons he and his ex-wife are fighting to keep Robert close to home, preferably in an SEC school like Florida. Eugene Marve was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago and has been through radiation and chemotherapy. He's tied to a cancer study in Bradenton, Fla. Robert's mother, Julie, had remarried and her second husband passed away, creating a financial hardship to have Robert "shipped off north or west."

Eugene Marve is afraid his son is caught between a recruiting "turf war" between Shannon and Florida coach Urban Meyer. He said he is afraid Shannon has put these restrictions on his son to send a message to SEC schools not to interfere with his players and recruits.

Shannon has not been available for comment. Until he or someone from Miami gives a reason as to why such excessive restrictions were placed on Marve's transfer, I'll withhold judgment on the situation -- but will continue to ask Miami for answers.

Why the Florida-FSU tie matters 14 years later

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
10:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Hey guys, here is an interesting piece by Brett Edgerton of ESPN Research ... enjoy!

Since 1990 -- the year Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville and UF football became relevant -- rivals Florida State and Florida have the top-two winning percentages in the country. Heading into Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee, the Seminoles are No. 1 and the Gators are No. 2 ... but the margin is oh-so-close. FSU is 186-50-1, while Florida is 186-51-1.

Best Win Percentage Since 1990 (FBS)
TeamRecordWin Pct.
Florida State186-50-1.787
Florida186-51-1.784
Ohio State182-51-3.778
Miami (FL)175-54.764

The difference between the top spot and the current runner-up? The famous "Choke at Doak" on Nov. 26, 1994. The Gators blew a 31-0 lead in Tallahassee in a game in which they led 31-3 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Seminoles stormed back with four touchdowns and the game ended in a 31-31 tie, in the second-to-last season before overtime came to college football. Even though no one won, it sure felt like there was a winner and a loser. One reporter put it perfectly when he wrote: "It was the best of ties. It was the worst of ties."

If the Gators had found a way to hold on to that 31-point lead, here's what those above standings would look like.

Best Win Percentage Since 1990 (FBS)
TeamRecordWin Pct.
Florida187-51.786
Florida State186-51.785
Ohio State182-51-3.778
Miami (FL)175-54.764

But not to worry, Florida fans. If the Gators win Saturday -- and some well-informed people out in the desert think they'll do so by about 16 points -- UF will not only maintain its hope for this year's BCS title, but more importantly, will take the lead in that mythical title of "best team since 1990." The top two would look like this.

Best Win Percentage Since 1990 (FBS)
TeamRecordWin Pct.
Florida187-51-1.785
Florida State186-51-1.782

Ponder vs. Tebow: An unfair comparison

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
3:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said that in another year, quarterback Christian Ponder "might be where Tebow is."

As in, Florida's Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

Tebow vs. Ponder: By the Numbers
Below is a look at Florida QB Tim Tebow (2007) and Florida State QB Christian Ponder's (2008) passing and rushing stats in their first season as a starter:
TEBOW PONDER
234COMP154
350ATT273
66.9PCT56.4
3,286YDS1,747
32TD12
210RUSH106
895YDS390
4.3AVG3.7
23TD7

"He can run the ball and throw it, and he's very intelligent and is making some good strides," Bowden said of Ponder. "It looks like he's about a year behind, though, in production."

A light year, maybe.

That's not a knock on Ponder, it's just a fact -- Tebow was in a league of his own last season and single-handedly revolutionized the quarterback position. There simply is no comparison for a quarterback who set the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season by a quarterback. Tebow was the only player in FBS history to rush AND pass for at least one touchdown in 14 straight games. And he was doing it against SEC opponents.

If there is a quarterback out there who is mentally and physically tougher than Tebow, he would have won the Heisman last year.

Comparing what Tebow did in his first season as starter and what Ponder is doing in his is unfair.

As a sophomore in 2007, in his first season taking over the offense from Chris Leak, Tebow ran for 23 touchdowns and threw for 32 more, with just six interceptions. As a redshirt sophomore, in his first season taking over for Drew Weatherford, Ponder has scored four rushing touchdowns and thrown 12, along with 11 interceptions.

There is no question he has shown some promise this season, but like many first-year quarterbacks, Ponder has been inconsistent. He was down against Boston College (three interceptions, completed less than 50 percent of his passes), and up against Maryland (no interceptions, only five incompletions).

Where Tebow and Ponder are similar is their ability to run. Ponder has 106 carries for 390 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Tebow has 121 carries for 427 yards and 11 touchdowns. He hasn't had the numbers he did a season ago because the Gators haven't needed him to. There are more playmakers to take some pressure off Tebow. Florida State, on the other hand, is too dependent upon its running game.

The two Atlantic Division opponents who took away the Noles' running game -- Boston College and Wake Forest -- won.

Ponder, who has already graduated, has a very bright future at Florida State and will only get better with experience. He has already proven capable of running the Noles' offense effectively, and will be more productive as he recognizes coverages quicker.

Even though it will be hard not to compare the two quarterbacks on the field in Tallahassee on Saturday, the best measure of Ponder's growth will come next year. Not against Tebow, but against his own performances from this season.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 14

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's the final week of the regular season, and there's no lack of things to keep an eye on, starting with the most important: Who's going to Tampa?

1. The Atlantic and Coastal Division crowns. If Boston College wins, it's in. Same with Virginia Tech. Both of those teams have home-field advantage. If they lose, Georgia Tech and Florida State will win their respective divisions.

2. Bowl eligibility. Last call for anyone still interested in extending their season. NC State, Virginia and Clemson all have that opportunity. If any one of them succeeds, it will be the first time in league history the ACC has had nine teams qualify for a bowl game.

3. SEC vs. ACC. Here it is, the ACC's chance to go 4-0 against the SEC (quit laughing) with wins over Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. There's a decent chance the league represents at 2-2, with its best win being over Georgia. In order for that to happen, though ...

4. Watch how the Bulldogs defend the triple option. They had a bye week to prepare for it, and will have home-field advantage, but will they have the discipline? Georgia has the No. 10 scoring defense in the SEC but is holding opponents to 104.5 rushing yards per game.

5. FSU defensive end Everette Brown vs. Tim Tebow. Brown has been a man on a mission this season, and three times this year has had at least three sacks in a game. Will he be able to get to the Heisman Trophy winner?

6. Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis. How he fares in place of injured starter Chris Crane will go a long way in determining how far the Eagles can go.

7. Miami's defense. Can the Hurricanes regroup from their embarrassing performance against Georgia Tech in time to stop a surging NC State offense, led by quarterback Russell Wilson?

8. UNC linebacker Chase Rice. He'll take over for injured linebacker Mark Paschal, the Tar Heels' leading tackler whose season ended with a spine injury in the 41-10 loss to NC State.

9. Duke's offense. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is expected to return, so the Blue Devils should be more productive than they were last week at Virginia Tech.

10. How Clemson fares without injured bandit end Ricky Sapp. The Tigers' pass rush struggled to begin with, and it is likely to struggle even more without Sapp.

Bowden: Greater feat would be beating Florida

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
12:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

FSU coach Bobby Bowden was just asked on the ACC teleconference which would be more important to his program: winning the ACC or beating Florida this week.

His answer?

"I would think beating Florida," he said. "What could we do greater, if we could beat them? They're No. 2 in the nation and they are an excellent football team that's been wearing us out lately. I think the greatest stride would be if we could win that game."

Agreed. If FSU wants to earn its reputation back as a national contender, it needs to beat the best teams in the nation -- not just say, Maryland. And right now, the Noles are the underdogs.

"We're the biggest underdogs we've been in years, I think," Bowden said. "But no different if we'd be playing Texas or Oklahoma, or Southern Cal ... we're trying to get back up there."

The first step, though, is getting back to the ACC Championship Game.

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