ACC: Jamison Crowder

ACC morning links

February, 17, 2015
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The NFL combine officially begins Tuesday, with over 300 NFL hopefuls set to be poked, prodded, questioned, timed and tested.

As has been the case in recent years, more prospects are invited than will get drafted, but everybody has a shot at either helping -- or potentially hurting -- themselves. This year, the ACC has 57 players represented -- including 12 from Florida State and 11 from Louisville. Those numbers do not come as much of a surprise.

This one does: Duke, which has had four players drafted since 2000, has four players at the combine -- Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Crowder turned heads at the Senior Bowl, and he discussed his NFL potential in an insightful diary entry he wrote for USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com lists DeVante Parker and Phillip Dorsett as receivers to watch during the combine. Dorsett, who has the potential to clock the fastest 40 time at the combine, has risen up draft boards along with teammates Denzel Perryman and Ereck Flowers. In all, eight Miami players will be at the combine -- proof the talent is still there in Coral Gables.

One more player to watch is Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, rated the No. 2 cornerback available by ESPN's Kevin Weidl, ahead of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Weidl says Johnson, "has the most natural man coverage skills in this year's class."

But of course, the biggest story headed into Indianapolis is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the popular name atop mock drafts across various publications. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he expects Winston to go first overall to Tampa Bay despite off-the-field concerns. Of course, we are only at the beginning of the draft process, and small things end up getting blown out of proportion. Winston will be scrutinized until draft day and beyond.

As if anybody needed proof, check what happened this past weekend. Winston became the subject of Twitter speculation when a photo of him was posted that made him look overweight. Turns out that the photo was a month old and showed Winston with a black band tied tightly across his waist. No matter what he looks like, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, said Winston has not yet decided whether to throw at the combine.

Stay tuned.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

ACC's second-half stars

February, 11, 2015
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This week, we looked at the second-half performances for the ACC’s quarterbacks. Now, we’ll dig into a few of the other top performances from returning players around the league.

Running backs

James Conner, Pittsburgh: No surprise that the ACC’s player of the year was really good down the stretch, but it’s worth noting that by Game 6, Conner’s performance was starting to lag because of the a heavy early workload. But after a bye, he came back strong, averaging 6.3 yards per rush (up from 5.6 in the first half) and scoring 17 times on the ground.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State: It was in FSU’s sixth game of the year against Syracuse that Cook finally got a long look, getting 23 carries and rushing for 122 yards, and though he still shared time with Karlos Williams after that, he quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best young runners. In the second half of the season, Cook averaged 6.2 yards per rush and had 27 carries of 10 yards or more (seventh among Power 5 backs), totaling 925 yards from scrimmage -- just 16 shy of Conner’s tally.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson: The Tigers’ ground game was abysmal in first half of the season. Set aside the big day against FCS South Carolina State, and Clemson ranked 102nd nationally in rushing per game (116) and 115th in yards per carry (2.8). But things improved down the stretch, even without star quarterback Deshaun Watson, thanks largely to Gallman. His 610 rushing yards in the second half of the season ranked fifth in the ACC, and his 18.3 rushes per game ranked third behind only Conner and Duke Johnson. On 128 second-half carries, Gallman didn’t fumble once.

Of note: Just 5.4 percent of Shaquille Powell's rushes in the second half went for a loss or no gain, the second-lowest rate in the league. Virginia Tech's J.C. Coleman ended the season with four straight games of 95 yards rushing or better. North Carolina’s T.J. Logan carried 86 times in the second half, and 44.2 percent went for at least 5 yards. Only Pitt’s Conner and Chris James had a better rate among ACC running backs.

Receivers and tight ends

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: His 833 receiving yards in the latter half of the season ranked eighth nationally, and his 48 catches ranked 12th. As Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik got more seasoning, Boyd was the benefactor, hauling in 112 yards or more in five of his last six games. He was one of just seven receivers to rack up five 100-yard games in the season’s second half. More impressive is that Boyd did it without a legitimate No. 2 option. He accounted for a whopping 48 percent of Pitt’s receptions and 58 percent of its receiving yards in the second half, both easily the highest rates in the country.

Artavis Scott, Clemson: Would you believe a true freshman playing with a struggling quarterback had as many receptions in the second half of the season as Boyd? That’s true of Scott, who caught 48 balls from Game 7 on, trailing only Rashad Greene and Jamison Crowder in the ACC, and his five receiving touchdowns trailed only Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. The biggest reason for Scott’s success? He had 642 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which nearly doubled any other ACC receiver.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech: No ACC player was targeted more often in the red zone from Week 8 on than Hodges (10), and his five catches and three touchdowns both ranked second in the conference during that span. He caught 28 balls from Week 8 through the end of the season, the second-most by any Power 5 tight end, trailing only Mackey semifinalist Jimmay Mundine.

Of note: Clemson’s Mike Williams hauled in 29 first downs in the second half of the season, trailing only Boyd among ACC receivers, and 16 of his 17 catches on third or fourth down went for conversions. Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne had six catches and four touchdowns in the red zone, both tops in the ACC. Virginia’s Canaan Severin had nine catches of 20 yards or more, more than any other ACC receiver aside from Boyd.

Defenders

Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: The Cardinals dodged a bullet when Rankins announced he would return for his senior season in 2015. In the second half of last season, he racked up six sacks -- tops in the ACC and 12th among all Power 5 defenders. He also forced a fumble and picked off a pass.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the season at strong safety, and not coincidentally, the Wolfpack’s defense improved dramatically, cutting its opponents’ completion percentage from 60 to 49, YPA from 7.0 to 5.9 and creating nine takeaways in five games after racking up just 11 in its first eight. Jones was at the forefront, picking off three passes in those last five games -- the third-most in the nation.

DeVon Edwards, Duke: After a boom-or-bust freshman campaign in 2013, Edwards was productive from the outset in 2014, but his second half was particularly impressive. He racked up an ACC-best 81 tackles during the second half of the season, including double-digit totals in six of Duke’s last seven games, and though his interception total dipped, he did chip in with five tackles for loss down the stretch.

Of note: Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks during the final six games. Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee racked up 51 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss and three sacks, during Wake’s final six games. Georgia Tech’s D.J. White had six pass breakups and three interceptions in the latter half of the season, the most total passes defended among ACC defensive backs.
Now that signing day is in the rearview, Duke can focus on its next priority: spring football.

Starting now.

The Blue Devils are opening in early February again to try and capitalize on momentum from yet another bowl game. But the team that opened practice Friday will look much different than the one that lost another postseason heartbreaker in late December.

[+] EnlargeScottie Montgomery
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIOffensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery knows Duke must develop playmakers to help out its new starting quarterback.
Duke loses starting quarterback Anthony Boone, All-ACC performer Jamison Crowder and All-ACC guard Laken Tomlinson. Leading tackler David Helton is gone, along with three starters on the defensive line. Safety Jeremy Cash is out for the start of spring because of recent knee surgery, and linebacker Kelby Brown is out for all of spring while he rehabs his knee.

The priority is clear on offense: establish playmakers at receiver while solidifying the quarterback spot. Thomas Sirk enters as the No. 1 signal caller, but Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre will get their share of reps. Sirk played last season behind Boone, primarily in running situations.

"Fundamentally, we think he'll be great," offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "We've had him in our system now for a couple years, and he's been able to watch Anthony and see Anthony. He does have the ability to throw it a lot better than a lot people may think. He has a great bit of star power. A lot of people don't know about him, but he carries himself with a lot of confidence, he has great practice habits but he's also going to be challenged by a lot of guys around him. This is a position that has to play well for us to perform at the top of our abilities."

Along those lines, Duke must develop playmakers to help the quarterback out. Montgomery has high hopes for Johnell Barnes this spring. Barnes had 23 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown last season but he has a chance now to win a starting job.

"He is a super-talented kid and he's probably as quick and as talented as any player we've had here," Montgomery said. "We need him to be consistent. We need him to be available. We need to see him take the step that good players take when their name is called. When you have an opportunity to play 20-30 snaps and you go to 60-70 snaps, you have great chances to be great."

The priority on defense will be up front, where Duke has made several coaching changes to help them change up their look a little bit. Duke will now have Clayton McGrath coach the defensive tackles and Jim Collins work with the outside linebackers and defensive ends.

Both moves were made to help Duke develop a hybrid rush end/linebacker spot that will be known as the "Devil" position. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said his plan is to have Kyler Brown be the prototype.

"It's something I've done at other places and wanted to do a long time around here," Knowles said in a recent phone interview. "Our recruiting is getting better, so we're able to market that and find guys that are talented and able to do it. Kyler Brown has played a lot of linebacker here and was an end last year for the first time. We recruited him a long time ago with this in mind. We told him to get your experience at linebacker, get your experience at D-end and now he will be able to be a true combo player knowing both."

Both groups have their strengths. On offense, it's the running backs. On defense, it's the secondary. But because there are so many new faces being integrated into the offense and defense, the emphasis this spring won't be learning the playbook as much as it will be about watching to see who can make big plays.
The talent across the ACC was plainly evident this past season, so it comes as no surprise that multiple players have made a major impression this week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama.

Among those drawing the most praise: Duke teammates Jamison Crowder and Laken Tomlinson, Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony and all four Miami players represented: tight end Clive Walford, receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Ladarius Gunter. Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, tweeted out practice award winners for the week Friday morning. Tomlinson, Anthony and Dorsett were honored.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay wrote this week that Dorsett's stock is on the rise, and he helped himself more than any other prospect during the week. His track speed has wowed scouts across the board. As McShay writes:
What stands out with Dorsett is that he has under-control speed. Some guys are burners in a straight line but can't gear down or get in and out of breaks under control enough to catch the ball. That isn't the case with Dorsett, who possesses every quality you want in a deep speed threat.

During the East-West Shrine game last week, former Miami defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo also turned heads. In all, five Miami players have made headlines in the last week for their play, leaving many once again to wonder how the Canes went 6-7 with so much talent. Add in running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, and the potential exists for at least seven players off this team to get drafted.

Dorsett told ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker, “A lot of things didn’t go our way last year. I can say that,” Dorsett said. “A lot of things went the wrong way. We just got to get guys to really buy in. It’s not on the coaches, it’s on the players. Coaches coach and players got to go out there and play. That’s all I can really say about it.”

Earlier in the week, NFL Network expert Mike Mayock said Tomlinson and Crowder were the players of the day. The Chicago Sun-Times had a good profile detailing the friendship between Tomlinson and high school teammate Louis Trinca-Pasat, both at the Senior Bowl.

Two more who also have had a good week: Al.com notes Lorenzo Mauldin of Louisville made an impression, and Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has made some plays despite his size being scrutinized.

Charles Davis of NFL Network said of Stephone Anthony, "He's a big-time player. Not many people around the country know enough about him."

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day has been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
  • Florida State has reportedly hired former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to replace departed defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, who is off to the Raiders.
  • Louisville will host six players on official visits this weekend.
  • Two former North Carolina student-athletes, including football player Devon Ramsey, have sued the university and NCAA over the long-running academic fraud scandal that involved the athletic department.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren discusses the progress his program has made since he arrived.
  • Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi picked up his third commitment in two days.
  • Virginia Tech unveiled its plans to cover cost of attendance with the Pylons of Promise.
We’re winding down our list of the ACC’s top 25 players from 2014. To view the previous entries, click here. Now, on to Nos. 6 through 10.

6. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.

7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Sophomore

Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.

10. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.

Story of the season: Duke

January, 16, 2015
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That Duke's season cannot be categorized simply as a resounding success speaks to how far the program has come.

Just a few years ago, finishing a 9-4 campaign with a winning record in the ACC would have earned applause from every corner of the college football world for Duke. Success was measured in small steps, and nine wins would have been a giant leap.

But things are different at Duke now, the result of David Cutcliffe’s astounding rebuilding job and the work of a steadily improved roster of players who now stack up nicely against nearly any opposition the ACC has to offer. Now, 9-4 isn’t a resounding success. It’s good, safety DeVon Edwards said, but it’s not enough.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe disappointment following a 9-4 season shows how far the expectations have risen for Duke under coach David Cutcliffe.
"Coach Cut has made that one of the things that he expects us to do as a team. He wants us to keep getting better every year," Edwards said. "That’s what’s become something we sort of have to do is win more games each year until we get to a championship."

The journey to respectability for Duke officially concluded in 2013 when the Blue Devils finished 10-4 and won the ACC Coastal. This season was about taking the next step -- pushing for a conference title, winning a bowl game, proving 2013 was no fluke.

Those were lofty goals, but after decades of dismal teams in Durham, they seemed, for the first time in a long time, attainable.

The belief only grew after a sterling start to the season. By mid-November, the Blue Devils were 8-1, with three games left against struggling opponents for a chance to wrap up a second straight Coastal title and, perhaps, force their way into the playoff conversation. Then they imploded in a mistake-filled game against Virginia Tech and were blown out at home against rival North Carolina. The division was lost, and the season ended with a 36-31 defeat against Arizona State in the Sun Bowl -- a second straight close loss to a well-regarded opponent in a bowl game.

"Obviously the last two bowl games have been heartbreakers, but we’re looking to come out next year with higher expectations," receiver Max McCaffrey said. "We want to redeem ourselves from that last game. And I think a huge goal of ours is to win a bowl game."

So what’s to be made of 9-4 for Duke?

On the one hand, winning 19 games in two years at a place like Duke marks an astounding amount of progress from where the program was when Cutcliffe assumed control in 2008. Though the Blue Devils didn’t win the Coastal this year, they did topple the eventual division winner, Georgia Tech, in decisive fashion. The roster wasn’t so much a group of overachievers as it was legitimate stars, with Laken Tomlinson earning All-America status and Jeremy Cash and Jamison Crowder among the numerous standouts in the ACC.

The success also came on the heels of a brutal summer in which quarterback Brandon Connette transferred and star tight end Braxton Deaver and linebacker Kelby Brown were both lost to injuries. That the Blue Devils still opened the season by winning eight of nine underscored a level of resiliency that is the hallmark of a strong program.

Still, there is the lingering feeling that Duke could’ve done more in 2014. Aside from Georgia Tech, Duke didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record. The bowl effort was solid for a second straight year, but the Blue Devils still came up short. The loss to the Hokies came from self-inflicted wounds, but that only made it more frustrating.

And perhaps that is the story of 2014 for Duke -- a season in which the team was once again very good, but also a season in which the Blue Devils decided that very good wasn’t quite good enough.

"It’s not frustration, but a lot of people were disappointed by how it ended," Edwards said. "But it’s more motivation to have a better season next year, to work hard this offseason to finish next season stronger."

When the bowl game ended, so, too, did the college careers for so many Duke stars who had helped build the program from the ground up. Crowder and Tomlinson, Anthony Boone and David Helton -- they were leaders on and off the field that the Blue Devils know won’t be easily replaced.

The recruiting results have improved, the talent has increased, and the wins have bolstered perceptions of the program nationally. This season wasn’t all Duke wanted it to be, and in a way, that’s a good thing. The aspirations are high now, and the players coming in to replace the departed stars aren’t interested in rebuilding anymore. They expect to win.

"That’s one of the biggest changes we’ve had in the last three years is that winning is now an expectation," McCaffrey said. "It’s not something you’re hoping for. We’re training every day to build on the previous season, and the young guys have a completely different attitude about winning than when I first came in."

ACC all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
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It wasn’t the finest bowl season for the ACC, which won just four games, but there were still some strong performances. Here’s our 2014-15 all-bowl team for the ACC.

OFFENSE

QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)

Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days scored three of Georgia Tech's seven touchdowns against Mississippi State.
RB: Synjyn Days (Georgia Tech)

His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.

RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)

The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)

Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.

WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)

There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.

TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)

It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.

OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.

OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.

OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)

NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.

OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)

It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.

C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)

The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.

DEFENSE

DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)

McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/John RaouxGrady Jarrett's performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl helped Clemson limit the Sooners to just six points.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)

Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.

LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)

Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.

LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.

LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)

Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.

LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)

Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.

S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)

The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.

S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)

Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.

CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)

While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.

CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)

Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.

K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)

Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.
Bowl season is over for the ACC. Here’s a run-through of some of the more intriguing statistical nuggets from the conclusion to the 2014 season.

ACC in nonconference play

It was not exactly a stellar bowl season for the ACC, with a final record of just 4-7. As we wrote last month, that’s far short of what the league needed to do to make any dent in what is a rather negative overall perception about its strength.

Two of its wins — Georgia Tech’s in the Orange Bowl and Clemson’s in the Russell Athletic Bowl — were over well-regarded foes, and Notre Dame -- using an ACC bowl tie-in -- also knocked off LSU. But beyond that, there were some not-so-impressive outcomes.

Of course, bowl season was just the last chapter in the season, and the full story was at least a bit more palatable for the league.

For the season (with the title game still pending), here’s how each league performed in nonconference games:

ACC: 46-21 overall, 12-13 vs. Power 5, 5-9 vs. ranked, 4-7 in bowls
SEC: 55-12 overall, 11-11 vs. Power 5, 4-9 vs. ranked, 7-5 in bowls
Pac-12: 37-8 overall, 13-4 vs. Power 5, 5-2 vs. ranked, 6-2 in bowls
Big 12: 24-13 overall, 6-11 vs. Power 5, 1-7 vs. ranked, 2-5 in bowls
Big Ten: 47-19 overall, 11-15 vs. Power 5, 5-6 vs. ranked, 5-5 in bowls

Add all that up, and what’s clear is that while the Pac-12 was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Power 5 in nonconference play, the ACC held its own compared with the Big Ten and SEC and was well ahead of the Big 12. That’s probably not the progress the league wanted, but it’s at least credence for the ACC to be taken a bit more seriously moving forward.

Georgia Tech gets it done

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech and running back Synjyn Days knocked off Misssissippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Not only did Georgia Tech earn the biggest victory of the bowl season for the ACC, and not only did it finish with 11 wins for just the second time since 1990 — but the Yellow Jackets did so against one of the toughest schedules in college football this year.

For the season, Georgia Tech’s opponents had a combined winning percentage of .639 — the fifth-highest mark in the nation. Only Ole Miss (.697), Auburn (.666), Arkansas (.663) and UCLA (.640) had a tougher schedule overall. If only considering Power 5 opponents, no non-SEC team had a tougher slate than Georgia Tech, whose opponents had a combined winning percentage of .656.

The victory over Mississippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl was the third of the season over a ranked foe for Georgia Tech. Overall, Tech was 3-1 vs. ranked opponents, with its only defeat a two-point loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game. The only other teams to win at least three games against ranked opponents while losing no more than one were Oregon, TCU, UCLA, Ohio State, Florida State and Baylor.

Hokies find ground game

At the end of Virginia Tech's 33-31 loss to Boston College on Nov. 1, the Hokies were ranked 93rd nationally in yards per rush and had just 36 runs of 10 yards or more (96th). Junior tailback J.C. Coleman had a grand total of 26 carries for 65 yards.

The next week, however, starter Marshawn Williams went down against Duke. Coleman stepped in and everything changed.

Coleman racked up 468 yards on 81 rushes in his final four games, including a 157-yard effort in the win over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. His 117 yards-per-game average was 21st nationally during that stretch, and he became just the third Virginia Tech running back in the last decade to have four straight games with at least 95 rushing yards.

Coleman averaged 5.8 yards per carry during that four-game stretch. For the season, all other Virginia Tech running backs averaged just 4.04 yards per carry.

Brissett finishes special season

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett had an under-the-radar great season at NC State.
Jacoby Brissett wrapped up his season at NC State with a win over UCF, and while he tended to float a bit under the radar in a league with star QBs such as Jameis Winston, Justin Thomas, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya, he turned in an exceptional season.

Brissett threw for 262 yards and a touchdown in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, bringing his season totals to 26 total touchdowns, five interceptions, and 3,135 yards of total offense. How’s that stack up nationally?

Brissett was one of just five QBs nationally to account for 25 touchdowns, 3,100 yards and throw five or fewer picks this season, and he’s one of just 10 Power 5 quarterbacks to do that in the last decade. The others: Matt McGloin (2012), Russell Wilson (2011), Tyrod Taylor (2010), Tim Tebow (2008 and 2009), Brett Hundley (2014), Marcus Mariota (2013 and 2014), Cody Kessler (2014), Bryce Petty (2013) and Jimmy Clausen (2009). That’s pretty elite company.

Clemson’s D historically good

Clemson’s defense won’t look the same next season, but stars Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Stephone Anthony, Robert Smith and Grady Jarrett all went out on top.

The Tigers led the nation in total defense, surrendering just 260.8 yards per game — 18 yards per game better than the next closest team.

Clemson held eight opponents to less than 300 yards of offense, including Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Only Penn State, Stanford and Wisconsin had more.

After a season-opening loss to Georgia -- played without Crawford in the lineup -- Clemson’s defense surrendered just 1,016 rushing yards (112 fewer than any other team in the country) and six rushing touchdowns (only Alabama allowed fewer). Meanwhile, the secondary finished the season allowing just 5.27 yards per attempt, tops in the nation.

Clemson’s opponents gained 10 yards or more on just 15 percent of their plays, the best rate in the country, and the Tigers’ defense racked up 131 tackles for loss, 17 more than any other defense. Clemson’s tackles for loss accounted for a total of 553 yards lost. For comparison, Wake Forest ran for just 479 yards this season.

Bowl bits:

  • The ACC finished with five 1,000-yard rushers after Thomas and Dalvin Cook crossed that mark in bowl games. That’s the most in the league since 2009, when the ACC also had five.
  • Duke’s Jamison Crowder and Clemson’s Mike Williams also crossed the 1,000-yard receiving threshold in bowl games. For Crowder, it was his third straight season with 1,000 receiving yards.
  • Georgia Tech’s Zach Laskey had 171 rushing attempts this season, and just four went for a loss or no gain. That rate of 2.3 percent was easily the best in the country (and less than half the next closest player) and is the lowest by any FBS running back with at least 150 carries in the last decade.
  • North Carolina fans have reason to be excited about the arrival of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator. The Tar Heels’ D coughed up 40 points in its bowl game, the sixth time this season it allowed that many points. Texas Tech is the only other Power 5 team to allow six 40-point games this year.
  • Marquise Williams finished the season with two touchdowns in North Carolina's bowl loss. He ended with 35 touchdowns — one of just 10 Power 5 QBs to hit that mark and the only one from the ACC.
  • [+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
    Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson accumulated more than 2,000 yards of offense at Miami.
    Duke Johnson had 183 total yards in Miami’s bowl loss to South Carolina, finishing the season with 2,073 yards from scrimmage. He’s just the second ACC player in the last decade with more than 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season (joining BC’s Andre Williams, who had 2,177 in 2013). Johnson is also one of just two Power 5 players with multiple games in which he ran for 100 yards and caught 50 yards of passes.
  • A missed PAT in overtime doomed Boston College to a bowl loss to Penn State — which was perhaps an appropriate ending for the Eagles. They missed a whopping eight PATs this season. The only Power 5 conference team to miss more in a season in the past 10 years was, surprisingly, the 2005 Texas Longhorns, who won the national title. The only Power 5 team to turn in a worse PAT percentage in a season in the last decade was Duke, which connected on just 75 percent of its tries in 2006.
  • DeVante Parker had eight catches for 120 yards in Louisville's Belk Bowl loss to Georgia, marking his fifth 120-plus-yard performance in just six games this season. Only four Power 5 receivers had more, and they all played in at least 12 games.
  • Jameis Winston threw for 348 yards and a touchdown in Florida State's Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, a loss to Oregon. It was the seventh time in 13 games that he topped 300 yards with a touchdown. The only Power 5 quarterback to have more such games this year was the man who beat Winston in the Rose Bowl: Marcus Mariota (8).
  • Tyler Boyd had nine catches for 112 yards in Pitt’s loss to Houston. For the season, Boyd accounted for 52.2 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards, the third-highest percentage by any Power 5 receiver in the last decade. In fact, Boyd is one of just four Power 5 receivers since 2005 to account for at least 50 percent of his team’s receiving yards.

Duke has one objective: Bowl win

December, 22, 2014
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Over the past three seasons, the Duke football program has gone on a record-breaking tear, racking up wins, top-25 rankings and bowl appearances along the way.

That, in turn, has started to change expectations.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsJamison Crowder is aiming to lead Duke to its first bowl win in 54 seasons.
Three seasons ago, Duke was just happy to make a bowl game. Now, making a bowl game is no longer good enough. Duke wants to make a bowl game AND win a bowl game, a feat that last happened in 1960.

The Blue Devils (9-3) get their chance Saturday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against No. 15 Arizona State (9-3), the second straight season they have faced a ranked opponent in a bowl game.

“That’s a goal and a milestone for this program,” receiver Jamison Crowder said. “The first bowl we had against Cincinnati -- that was an accomplishment in itself making it to a bowl. We came up short in that game and last year we came up short.

“Right now, we’re focused on what we need to do to win the bowl. We feel if we are able to win, that definitely helps out the program, and that just adds another accomplishment to what we have achieved.”

Go back to 2012, when Duke finished the regular season 6-6 and made it to the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, its first bowl appearance since 1994. There was cause for celebration because the program had been down for so long. As proof, coach David Cutcliffe was selected ACC Coach of the Year despite failing to post a winning record.

Most folks seemed to view Duke as a one-hit wonder, giving the Blue Devils a little pat on the head for a job well done. But Duke had no plans to go anywhere. Last season, Cutcliffe won ACC Coach of the Year honors again after Duke won the Coastal Division and made it to the ACC championship game. It faced Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Not many gave Duke a chance in either game. Yet the Blue Devils nearly won them both, losing in heartbreaking fashion in the fourth quarter both times. Cincinnati scored two touchdowns in the final 44 seconds to win the Belk Bowl; Texas A&M scored 21 fourth-quarter points to win in perhaps the most entertaining bowl game of last season.

“We put a big emphasis on finishing,” defensive end Dezmond Johnson said. “We come out hot in the first half and maybe a little bit in the third, and then kind of die off in the fourth, which is kind of where we lose the game. [We need] to come out strong and finish strong.”

Though Duke ended up losing to Texas A&M, the Blue Devils believe they gained respect in a roundabout way. They proved they could hang with the former Heisman Trophy winner despite being a heavy underdog. Duke led 38-17 at halftime but only scored 10 points in the second half of the 52-48 loss.

Crowder called the Chick-Fil-A Bowl “one of the best experiences of my college career.”

“We felt like we could go in there and compete,” Crowder said. “I think people saw that. A lot of people didn’t think we could compete with a team like Texas A&M last year but just going out there and playing, even when we lost in the last moments of the game, I think a lot of people see the Duke program -- now we have athletes that can play and compete with the best of them.”

Competing is one thing. Winning is another. Having said that, some perspective is still in order.

As much as Duke wants to win a bowl, it only has made five postseason appearances since beating Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, 7-6, in 1960. Three have come since 2012.

“It’s a very interesting chance for our team to go out there and do something that our team last year didn’t do or the year before that or teams a long time in the past,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “It’s not going to be easy, playing the No. 15 team in the country. They do a lot of good things, and they come from a great conference, so this is more a program game for us more than proving a point or having a chip on our shoulders. Just a chance for our program to be matched up against another great program and seeing where we are.”

All-ACC team, coaches' awards unveiled

December, 10, 2014
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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.
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.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 11

November, 8, 2014
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It was a slower slate in the ACC this week, but we did learn a few things about the league. Here are some of the biggest story lines.

Clemson can’t wait to get its QB back: Credit to Cole Stoudt. He’s stayed humble, hasn’t complained, did what he had to do to ensure Clemson kept winning with Deshaun Watson sidelined. But as Clemson struggled to get past Wake Forest 34-20 on Thursday, Tigers fans could be forgiven for clamoring to see Watson back in the huddle. The freshman, who has missed the past three full games, was in uniform Thursday and figures to get the start next week against Georgia Tech. It certainly figures to help Clemson’s offense, which mustered just seven TDs to go with seven turnovers during its past four games, helmed mostly by Stoudt.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Tech Defense
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeGeorgia Tech's defense made moving the football difficult for Jacoby Brissett and NC State on Saturday.
Georgia Tech’s D finds ways to win: No one is confusing the Yellow Jackets’ defense for the Steel Curtain, but give Georgia Tech some credit for making big plays when it has to. It forced three NC State turnovers, returning two for scores in a 56-23 win over the Wolfpack. NC State was near the goal line with a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter when Jacoby Brissett was picked off. It was the first of three straight drives to end with a Tech takeaway, and a 14-13 deficit quickly turned into an easy win for the Jackets. So far this year, Georgia Tech has a plus-nine turnover margin and 101 points off turnovers.

Duke still in control of Coastal: It’s a three-team race in the ACC Coastal, but as long as Duke keeps winning -- it did against Syracuse 27-10 on Saturday -- the Blue Devils will be in Charlotte for the second straight season. Anthony Boone is playing good football, throwing two more TDs against the Orange, and the special teams have been spectacular, with Jamison Crowder returning a punt for a score on Saturday. Virginia Tech awaits next week.

Florida State will get more criticism: The Seminoles beat Virginia 34-20 for their 25th straight victory, which on a weekend that saw more than its share of supposed playoff contenders fall, should be an impressive narrative in its own right. But after Jameis Winston threw two more picks, after the O-line struggled against Virginia’s pass rush, after the ground game took another hit with an injury to Dalvin Cook, and after Rashad Greene proved to be FSU’s lone consistent receiving threat against Virginia, there’s still plenty of nitpicking to be done, if you’re so inclined. But at this point, it’s pretty clear that’s exactly what FSU is: The Noles aren’t as good as they were a year ago -- who would be? — but they keep finding ways to win. It may not be pretty, but it’s still a recipe for a playoff berth.

QBs shouldn’t throw anywhere near Gerod Holliman: Boston College led 13-3 at one point Saturday, but that lead was quickly erased in large part due to the biggest ball hawk in the nation. Safety Holliman picked off Tyler Murphy three times as Louisville routed the Eagles 38-19, firmly asserting itself as the No. 3 team in the Atlantic. Holliman now has 13 interceptions this season, tying former NC State star David Amerson for the most by any player in the past decade. He’s just one shy of the FBS record. But in fairness, as good as Holliman has been, he's been able to make so many interceptions because the Louisville pass rush has been exceptional. The Cardinals tormented Murphy all night Saturday, even without All-ACC pass-rusher Lorenzo Mauldin, who missed the game with an injury.
David Cutcliffe knows how absurd it sounds. It's not that he hasn't thought about it -- but Duke in the College Football Playoff? That's more dream than reality.

The Blue Devils are 7-1 and in control of their own destiny in the ACC's Coastal Division, and if they were to win out through the conference championship game, they'd likely be one of just a handful of one-loss teams in the country with a win over the defending national champs in their back pocket.

But, of course, even if all those stars aligned perfectly for Duke, a playoff berth would be far from guaranteed. It's a program that has won 15 of its last 16 regular-season games, with its only loss this season a road defeat to a solid Miami team, and when the playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday, the Blue Devils resided far down the list at No. 22, the lowest-ranked one-loss team from a Power 5 conference. They trailed eight two-loss teams.

Cutcliffe has always preached small goals, but if that big goal finally comes true, he's already planning to fight for some respect.

[+] EnlargeDuke's David Cutcliffe
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images"I think sometimes the people in different areas of the country don't know yet who we are and I don't blame them," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "What I tell our players is if it bothers you, then keep winning."
"If we had that kind of dream come true, and we're at 12-1, then I'm going to campaign," Cutcliffe said. "I can promise you that. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Indeed, there are tall bridges still to be crossed for Duke, not the least of which would be that ACC title game against undefeated Florida State. But the road to national respect has been a long one for Duke, and even in spite of three straight seasons of bowl eligibility, it remains an uphill battle.

"I think sometimes the people in different areas of the country don't know yet who we are and I don't blame them," Cutcliffe said. "What I tell our players is if it bothers you, then keep winning."

Duke has certainly done that. Its résumé to this point certainly compares favorably with other one-loss teams like Michigan State (ranked eighth), Notre Dame (10th), Nebraska (13th) and Ohio State (14th), all of which failed to log an impressive nonconference win but have also avoided an embarrassing loss.

The difference, of course, is those four teams have historical pedigree on their side, and Duke does not.

"This is a very good time for us to start developing into a really good team with the whole College Football Playoff system," linebacker David Helton said. "Of course, the Alabamas and all these programs out there that are extremely historic are definitely going to have an advantage at least at this point in time, but ultimately that's something all of us, it's out of our control."

That's partially due to Duke's schedule. The non-conference slate was highlighted by a road trip to Troy and a home date with Kansas, two of the worst FBS teams in the nation. The cross-divisional slate doesn't help either, with the Blue Devils avoiding Florida State, Louisville and Clemson in favor of Atlantic bottom-feeders Syracuse and Wake Forest.

It's a Catch-22 for the Blue Devils: Voters want to see Duke prove itself, but the schedule doesn't afford it the opportunity.

But again, Duke falls back on Cutcliffe's imperative to simply keep winning.

"That's really what you come play college football for is to go against the best, and we're headed in that direction," receiver Jamison Crowder said. "If we continue to win, we know somewhere down the line we'll play Florida State or one of those SEC schools. That's the excitement of playing college football, and I think everybody has the right mindset and we're ready to play a top program with a great tradition."

The question is whether it will be too little, too late this season for Duke. The program is changing hearts and minds one game at a time, but it's tough to do battle with the blue bloods of college football in the committee's meeting room when it hasn't done battle with them on the field.

Of course, there is still another month of football to be played, and a lot can happen in that time. Finishing strong remains Cutcliffe's only goal, and what happens after that is out of his hands.

What's assured is that Duke isn't a laughing stock anymore, and if the wins keep coming, eventually the arguments for respect won't be nearly so hard to make.

"The respect is growing across the country but I don't think it is where it might be for some bigger name programs," Helton said. "It's definitely something we can unite around and we realize that people are growing in respect but it's not where ultimately it will be in the future."

ACC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
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It was another wild week in the ACC, with some of the league’s elite players turning in vintage performances while some young guns began to emerge. Here are our helmet stickers for Week 10.

Florida State’s freshmen: Jimbo Fisher has been bringing in big hauls on the recruiting trail for years, but it’s been rare that so many have paid such instant dividends as his 2014 signing class did against Louisville. Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph had 284 of FSU’s 574 yards of offense and scored three times. Cook’s 110 yards rushing on nine carries was the difference as the Seminoles pulled away late after trailing by 21 in the first half. Since Oct. 1, Cook leads FSU in rushing with 265 yards, and Rudolph is second on the team in receiving with 268 yards.

Miami RB Duke Johnson and Pitt RB James Conner: We’re lumping the two together not as a slight, but to point out that we’re witnessing two of the truly great seasons by ACC running backs at the same time. Conner was tremendous in a losing effort against Duke, racking up 263 yards -- the most by a Power 5 running back this season -- and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Johnson had 226 yards from scrimmage and scored three times to lead Miami to a win. Through nine weeks, Conner has racked up 1,342 yards and Johnson 1,213. BC’s Andre Williams -- a Heisman finalist in 2013 -- is the only ACC running back to account for more rush yards through nine games in the past decade.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: How crazy have the past two Duke-Pitt games been? The combined score of last year’s and this year’s game is Duke 106, Pitt 106. The Blue Devils managed to eek out the win in two overtimes this season after the Panthers botched a late field-goal try, but it was Crowder who kept Duke in the game all along. The senior had nine catches for 165 yards and two scores — his first touchdowns of the year against an FBS team. Add a 99-yard kick return for a score by DeVon Edwards, and Duke’s faint playoff hopes remain intact.

NC State DE Pharoah McKever: The Wolfpack offense continues to struggle to find the end zone, but the defense was up to the task against Syracuse. NC State forced three turnovers in the game, and none were more significant than McKever’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown that turned a 14-9 deficit into a 17-14 lead. It was McKever’s first career INT, the first NC State defensive touchdown in an ACC game since 2012, and more importantly, it was Dave Doreen’s first conference win as the Wolfpack’s head coach.

Georgia Tech RB Synjyn Days: In the two games since Zach Laskey went down with an injury, Days has been a revelation. One week after racking up 110 yards on 22 carries - both career highs -- Days led the way to a win over Virginia by running for 147 yards and adding another 17 through the air, scoring twice. The Cavaliers entered the game with the No. 9-ranked rush defense in the nation, but Days became the first player to rush for 100 against them this season.

Boston College QB Tyler Murphy: The Eagles are bowl eligible for the second straight season, and Murphy is a big reason why. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, racking up 122 yards on 18 carries on the ground. Murphy’s 57-yard TD run with 2:59 to play effectively sealed the win over Virginia Tech, and he’s now just 35 yards shy of becoming the first ACC quarterback to run for 1,000 yards since Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt in 2009.

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
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Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

The hype: As a true freshman in 2013, Coley averaged 18 yards-per-catch and finished with 1,461 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in the ACC. With a year of experience under his belt, expectations were high.

The reality: In six games, Coley has 11 receptions for 59 yards. He has yet to catch a single pass of 18 yards or more after averaging that last season.

The explanation: Coley suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 that has hindered him all season. He hasn’t been able to match up with physical cornerbacks, and his routes have suffered as a result. The early season injury also kept him from building a rapport with new quarterback Brad Kaaya, and overall Coley has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game.

The fallout: Coley’s numbers are way down, but Miami’s passing game has remained solid. Kaaya has improved each week and become one of the top deep-ball passers in the nation, even without one of his top deep threats. With Coley struggling, however, Phillip Dorsett has stepped up. His 34.4 yards-per-catch average is the best in the nation.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

The hype: As a junior in 2013, Crowder led the ACC with 108 catches and topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was a fixture of Duke’s passing game, earning the second most targets of any receiver in the nation. His senior season was to be a culmination of an exceptional career, including a good chance Crowder would set the conference record for receiving yards.

The reality: Crowder’s 40 catches are the second-most in the ACC this season, which is good. But he has yet to find the end zone against an FBS foe, and before a solid eight-catch, 99-yard day against Virginia last week, he had managed just 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games vs. Power 5 competition.

The explanation: The preseason injury to tight end Braxton Deaver, Duke’s second-leading receiver in 2013, meant there would be ample focus on Crowder from opposing defenses this season, so he has found a bit less room to maneuver. He has been a bit more prone to drops -- three so far -- but he is also catching just 47.6 percent of his targets, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The fallout: Duke’s passing game has been inconsistent this season, in part because of Crowder’s diminished numbers, but other receivers have stepped up. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have 50 catches and six touchdowns between them, better numbers than they tallied all of last season. But a more consistent Crowder would certainly be a big asset to quarterback Anthony Boone and the Duke offense, and last week's game could be a sign of what's to come.

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

The hype: Williams was third on FSU’s depth chart last season, but he still rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. Moving into the starting role in 2014 behind a senior-laden offensive line, he was considered a darkhorse Heisman threat.

The reality: Last season, 23 of Williams’ 82 rushing attempts vs. FBS teams went for 10 yards or more. This season, just 11 of 73 have. He has rushed for nearly 2.5 yards-per-carry less than a year ago, and he already has more negative runs (12) than he did all of last season (8).

The explanation: Part of the Williams hype was conjecture. He posted big numbers in 2013, but he had just 18 carries in the first halves of games, with the bulk of his production coming in the latter half of blowouts. More problematic for Williams this season, however, has been the struggles of his offensive line. In 2013, he averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry before contact. This year, just 2.0.

The fallout: Florida State’s ground game has taken a major step backward from a year ago. In 2013, the Seminoles averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on non-quarterback runs vs. FBS opponents (fourth-best in the nation). This season, they are getting just 4.4 (80th). As a result, Jimbo Fisher has been far more reliant on his passing game, calling for throws 55 percent of the time on first and second down, while averaging a yard-and-a-half less.

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

The hype: As a true freshman, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, earning All-America status for the effort.

The reality: After averaging 21 yards-per-return a year ago, Switzer has just 20 punt-return yards total against FBS teams this season. He hasn’t found the end zone, and he has managed double-digit yardage in the return game just once since the opener vs. Liberty.

The explanation: The dangers of Switzer’s immense success in 2013 were obvious this offseason. Teams simply wouldn’t kick to him because they didn’t want to get burned. Still, he had just 24 return attempts last season, the same number he has had through seven games this season. More likely, Switzer is trying to make something out of nothing a bit too often, and the blockers leading the way haven’t been quite as good.

The fallout: Beyond the lack of special-teams touchdowns, there really hasn’t been much of an impact. In fact, last season UNC’s average starting field position after a punt was its own 28. This season, it’s the 29. Moreover, what Switzer has lacked in special-teams flair, he has made up for on offense. Through seven games last season, he caught 16 balls for 121 yards and one touchdown. This season he has 34 receptions for 429 yards and three scores.

Florida State’s defensive backs

The hype: The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense in 2012 and 2013, and under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season, they utterly dominated opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 5.1 yards-per-attempt (best in the country) and picking off 26 passes (also tops in the nation). With rising stars like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey all returning, the stage was set for another big season.

The reality: Through seven games, FSU’s pass defense ranks 61st nationally. The Seminoles are allowing a far more hospitable 6.8 yards-per-attempt, have allowed 11 touchdowns after surrendering just 14 all season in 2013, and have picked off just seven passes.

The explanation: Personnel has something to do with it. The Seminoles clearly miss Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner's leadership and playmaking ability. The transition from Pruitt to new coordinator Charles Kelly has earned some of the blame from fans, too. But perhaps the biggest culprit is the lack of pressure up front. FSU’s sack rate has dropped from 7.6 percent of dropbacks a year ago to just 4.5 percent this season.

The fallout: Florida State avoided the worst possible consequence last week when an offensive pass interference call kept its undefeated season alive. Beyond that, teams are completing a higher percentage of third-down throws (54.4 percent, up from 46 percent last year) and converting a higher rate for first downs (37 percent, up from 28 percent), keeping drives alive and keeping Jameis Winston and the offense off the field. More impactful, perhaps, is that FSU scored 197 points off turnovers last season. So far this season, it has scored just 45.

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