ACC: Matt Dayes

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NC State secured its best season since 2011 after a 34-27 win over UCF in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl on Friday night. Here is how the Wolfpack won:

It was over when: Tyler Purvis recovered the onside kick with 1:42 to go after UCF cut the lead to 34-27. NC State had built a 31-13 lead on Matt Dayes' second touchdown of the third quarter. But in typical UCF fashion, the Knights started chipping away at the lead, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the game a little too close for comfort for the Wolfpack. Justin Holman threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reese that cut the gap to a touchdown, but Purvis ended up saving the day.

Game ball goes to: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett. Taking a sack to close the second quarter and miss a chance at a short field goal attempt was one of the few mistakes Brissett made in the game. NC State showed terrific balance in running and throwing. Brissett had 262 yards passing and 31 yards on the ground, and kept countless plays alive with his feet. He looked confident and comfortable as the leader of the NC State offense, a player who has grown into the job after one year behind center. A few of his passes were dropped, and NC State called a few option passes for other players, otherwise Brissett may have had 300 yards passing himself. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he became the first quarterback in NC State history to finish the season with at least 20 touchdown passes and 5 or fewer interceptions.

Stat of the game: 187. The biggest reason why the Wolfpack were so effective was because NC State completely dominated the line of scrimmage, opening big holes in the run game. UCF went into the game ranked No. 5 in the nation in run defense, allowing an average of 97.4 yards per game. When it was tough to run in the first half, Brissett found wide-open receivers in the pass game. That helped open up the run game, especially in the second half. Dayes ended up with 78 yards rushing, Shadrach Thornton had 96 and the Wolfpack finished with 187 total yards rushing.

What it means: NC State made big, big strides in Year 2 under Dave Doeren, finishing 8-5 -- five more victories than a year ago. This program has clearly surpassed rival North Carolina. If the head-to-head win to close the season was not evidence enough, then check the bowl scores after the Tar Heels had a miserable showing in a Quick Lane Bowl loss to Rutgers. The 2015 schedule is a piece of cake in the nonconference, and the Wolfpack get Clemson and Louisville at home. NC State's second Coastal opponent is Virginia Tech. So there may very well be an opportunity for even more with a much more experienced team returning.
NC State has used the hashtag #PacktheBay to get its fans to support the Wolfpack in St. Petersburg, Florida, over the holidays. Given where their opponent is from, they are hoping for all the support they can get.

UCF only had to take a bus a few hours west to make its bowl trip, and its fans are sure to be out in full force -- the way they were in taking over Raymond James Stadium when they played USF in Tampa to close the season.

Here are three key storylines to watch when the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

1. NC State run game vs. UCF run defense. It's a matchup of strength against strength in the trenches. NC State has posted consecutive 300-yard rushing games and is averaging 206 yards per game on the ground behind the collective efforts of quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running backs Shadrach Thornton, Matt Dayes and Tony Creecy. UCF, meanwhile, ranks No. 5 in the nation in rush defense and is only allowing 97.4 yards per game. UCF's past three opponents had a combined 85 yards rushing and averaged 1.2 yards per carry. How NC State runs could very well determine the outcome. Not surprisely, its five losses featured its five lowest rushing totals of the season.

2. Holman to Perriman. Justin Holman and Breshad Perriman have developed quite a connection, especially on the deep ball. Nine of Holman's 13 longest throws this season have gone to Perriman, including the classic 51-yard Hail Mary to beat East Carolina. Of Perriman's 41 receptions this year, 17 have gone for 20 or more yards. Perriman ranks No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards per game (22.1) and has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games. The NC State secondary must find a way to limit big plays, or it could be a long night.

3. Brissett vs. Jacoby Glenn. NC State has only thrown six interceptions this season. That's the fewest picks for a Wolfpack offense since 1967. Five of them belong to Brissett, who played his best game of the season in the regular-season finale against North Carolina. But what awaits him is a veteran secondary starring Co-AAC Defensive Player of the Year Jacoby Glenn, one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Glenn ranks third in the nation with seven interceptions and tied for fourth with 18 passes defended. The UCF starting secondary has played in a combined 171 games and should have a matchup edge on the relatively young NC State receiving group.

Q&A with NC State coach Dave Doeren

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
2:00
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A year after going winless in conference play, NC State wrapped up the regular season with a 7-5 record and a berth in the BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl against UCF. We talked with Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren last week about the improvement of his team down the stretch and the big win against North Carolina to end the season.

At the end of October, you were riding a four-game losing streak and had lost 12 straight in ACC play, but by the end of November, you were playing your best football of the year. How much changed in that last month of the season?

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDave Doeren believes his team is more balanced offensively now than it was early in the season.
Dave Doeren: We won three of our last four, and I really feel like our last two games against Wake and UNC, we were dominating in all three phases. We got better after the stretch [of losses]. We played pretty good against Florida State and lost, and we played pretty good against Louisville and lost. We’re a seven-win team that really had a chance to win nine games. Georgia Tech and Clemson we didn’t, but the others we did, and to finish the way we did, dominating the lines of scrimmage in both games, I was really proud of our players.

You have talked a lot about the challenges of having such a young team, but that those players managed to bounce back from a really rough stretch midseason has to speak highly of their maturation, right?

Doeren: Yeah, we had a team meeting where I thanked our seniors for just that, keeping the guys together. The younger players followed their leadership, and I told our staff that they did a great job keeping the ship the way it needed to be kept. Guys that wanted to win were willing to throw it in there and compete, and [it] showed in the small victories as we went through that process and came out of it playing pretty good football.

Early on, it seemed like if Jacoby Brissett was playing well, the team played well. But down the stretch, it looked like you found a little more diversity offensively, playing a bit more physical and using the run game. Is that a fair assessment?

Doeren: I’ve been searching for balance ever since I got here. We had it throughout the season in most of our games. When you get behind the way we did in the Clemson game or the second half of Georgia Tech, it forces your hand. The only game I thought we abandoned who we were was Boston College. We got in a throwing mode too much. Since that game, I think our offensive staff has really done a great job of game-planning and being balanced and using Shad Thornton or Matt Dayes throughout the game, and David Grinnage in the play-action game and finding some hits for Bryan Underwood or getting Bo Hines the ball in the slot. They just used their personnel and really found the identity I want to have as a running football team that can control the clock. We’ve been able to find that.

Hakim Jones made some headlines with his comments about playing physical against North Carolina, and QB Marquise Williams in particular. I’m sure you weren’t thrilled with the bulletin-board material, but does it speak to your team’s progress that they actually went out and backed up those comments with their performance on the field?

Doeren: The first thing I did when I heard the comment was I called him and [said], 'You better back it up.' I respect Marquise Williams a lot. He’s a really good player. And I think Hakim does, too, but he got in the moment of the press conference and he definitely said what he was thinking, but he didn’t need to say it. But he backed it up, and the guys supported him. That’s not something I want to repeat, but I’m glad they did back it up, because those moments can go the other way on you in a hurry. Our defensive kids played really good football in that game. We dominated the line of scrimmage, we tackled well, and they were physical when they got there.

The other big issue you had midseason was the suspension of several key players for an off-field incident. Was that a turning point in giving those players a little bit of an eye-opening experience and getting some young guys game-day reps?

Doeren: That game was a really big learning experience for those kids that had to sit out. They had to earn their way back into the lineup, and they did. But it allowed some other kids to get out there and play, which in turn helped our depth. Bradley Chubb and Airius Moore got some really big playing time because of it, and I think when you ask about our improvement, it’s our coaching staff and players working together and buying into that process that you have to practice and prepare well to play well. As a young team, sometimes guys don’t understand how hard you need to practice, but by the end of the season we were a very different football team when it came to the effort we were giving on a daily basis on the practice field.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 14

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
2:00
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It is the last regular-season weekend of the year. You know what that means: expect the unexpected.

With that in mind, plenty of teams are on Upset Watch in Week 14.

Saturday

No. 18 Georgia Tech (9-2) at No. 10 Georgia (9-2), noon, SEC Network. Line: Georgia by 13. At first glance, this line appears to be rather large considering how well Georgia Tech is playing heading into the matchup. The Jackets have won four straight, beat No. 22 Clemson and had an entire off week to prepare. They nearly pulled the upset a year ago, and have a far better team this season. Then there is the matter of how Florida gashed Georgia on the ground. Georgia Tech has been so much more effective offensively with its triple option, if it hangs onto the ball and continues to eat chunks of time off the clock, the Jackets will have an excellent shot to win.

South Carolina (6-5) at No. 22 Clemson (8-3), noon, ESPN. Line: Clemson by 4.5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some weird voodoo going on over Clemson. Maybe he's just in their heads. How else to explain the turnover margin during the Gamecocks' five-game winning streak? South Carolina has turned it over three times; Clemson 15. That includes a whopping six Clemson turnovers a year ago. All those mistakes have ended in pretty miserable losses. Clemson has lost each game by double digits. Given the way South Carolina has played this season, all signs point to a Clemson breakthrough. But will the Tigers have Deshaun Watson available? If not, will Cole Stoudt do enough to break the losing streak?

NC State (6-5) at North Carolina (6-5), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: North Carolina by 6.5. The Tar Heels are riding high off an impressive 45-20 win against Duke, but now they face their second straight rivalry game against a Wolfpack team that had a week off to prepare. Though their run defense played much better, NC State will try to continue to exploit weaknesses in that group behind Matt Dayes and Shad Thornton. The bigger question is whether the NC State defense has enough to slow down the unstoppable Marquise Williams, who has put on quite the offensive show down the stretch. This one could end up being a shootout. If that happens, anyone can win.

Florida (6-4) at No. 3 Florida State (11-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: FSU by 7.5. You are going to hear a lot about what Ron Zook and the Gators did to the Seminoles in 2004. A few similarities are hard to ignore -- Florida had nothing to lose in that game in Tallahassee, the final one under Zook. Florida was 6-4 going into the game; Florida State was a top-10 team. They are all points to keep in mind, especially given the way Florida State has squeaked by its opponents this season. Outgoing Florida coach Will Muschamp handed Florida State its last lost. Maybe he has something up his sleeve to give the Noles another on his way out. Plus, strange things happen in this game the last few years it has ended in a "4" -- 1994, Choke at Doak; 2004, Zookered!; 2014 ???

* Note: There is no line for the Pitt-Miami game with James Conner's status up in the air. Considering Miami (6-5, 3-4) is the home team, the Canes need to be on high alert for a Pitt team (5-6, 3-4) that will be desperate to become bowl eligible. Especially given their abysmal performance last week in a loss to Virginia.

** Note II: The line for Virginia-Virginia Tech is even, so tough to put anybody on upset watch in that game. The over/under, however, is set at 40.5. I would take the under on that.

By the numbers: Week 12 recap

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
2:00
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Just two weeks left in the regular season, and the conference's top performers are finishing strong. Here's a look at some of the key numbers from Week 12.

ACC's top QB: Thomas or Winston?

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas may be the biggest reason the Yellow Jackets appear so rejuvenated in 2014. His 15 touchdown passes are the most by a Tech QB since 2006. His 827 rushing yards lead Tech and are the third-most by a QB there in the past decade. His 18.6 yards-per-completion leads the nation and his TD/attempt rate of 10.3 percent trails only J.T. Barrett and Marcus Mariota. Thomas' Adjusted QBR of 83.9 is sixth nationally and tops in the ACC.

So, perhaps it's worth asking the question: Who is the first-team All-ACC QB this year?

Jameis Winston is responsible for more yards because he throws more often, but Thomas has coughed up six fewer turnovers. Thomas plays in a bit safer offense, too, and Winston has had to work with a lot of youngsters around him.

But here are a few more numbers worth noting: Thomas leads the ACC in QBR on third/fourth down (96.2) and is second nationally. Winston is second in the ACC at 83.8. Thomas also leads the ACC in QBR when tied or trailing (71.7) while Winston is fifth (65.0). But change that to tied or trailing in the second half, and Winston leads the way (86.7) while Thomas is fourth (57.3).

Of course, the best answer to the debate could well come in Charlotte on Dec. 6.

Florida State's magic acts

In the last eight games, Florida State has had 110 offensive drives, of which 65 percent came when tied or trailing. And yet the Seminoles are 8-0 in those games. It's pretty amazing.

For the season, Florida State has now recovered from three different deficits of 15 or more points (vs. Miami, Louisville and NC State). According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Seminoles are the first team to do that in three different games in the same season since UCLA did so in 2005.

So the obvious conclusion is that FSU is flawed but resilient, right? That's possibly fair, but keep this in mind, too: No team in the country has dominated the second halves of games more than Florida State (average margin of +12.4 points). It's just those first halves when the Seminoles struggle.

Pitt's dynamic duo

Pittsburgh might be the ACC's biggest disappointment this year, but you can't blame Tyler Boyd or James Conner. The duo has combined for 1,040 yards of offense in the last three games -- and Pitt has lost all three.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner has topped 200 rushing in each of his past two games, yet the Panthers have lost both.
Conner has actually gone over 200 yards rushing in each of his past two games, becoming just the eighth running back in the last decade to do so in back-to-back games against Power 5 teams. Surprisingly, he's not the first to lose both of those games. Washington State's Jerome Harrison endured the same ignominious feat in 2005.

Conner had four rushing touchdowns against UNC on Saturday, and as Pitt SID E.J. Broghetti notes, Conner now has 21 on the year -- tied for the ACC's all-time mark with two games left to play. Conner has also scored three or more times on the ground in three straight games. In the past decade, only two other players have longer streaks: Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs (5 straight in 2013) and Stanford's Toby Gerhart (4 straight in 2009).

In the last decade, the only other Power 5 player to lose a game with 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns also came from the ACC: Clemson's C.J. Spiller in 2009 vs. Georgia Tech (courtesy ESPN Stats & Info).

Boyd, meanwhile, topped 120 receiving yards for the third straight game, and he ranks second in the ACC in receiving yards with 951. With another 49 yards, he'll top the 1,000 mark in each of his first two seasons. In the last decade, only two other players from AQ schools topped 1,000 receiving yards as both a true freshman and sophomore (USC's Marqise Lee and Washington State's Marquess Wilson).

Dayes is all-purpose star

Matt Dayes had a huge game against Wake Forest scoring three times to propel NC State to bowl eligibility. For the season, Dayes now has 469 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground, 303 receiving yards and five TDs through the air, plus another 379 yards returning kicks.

Dayes is one of just two players in the country to top 300 yards in rushing, receiving and returns this year, but he's the only player with 300-plus yards rushing and receiving along with five or more TDs rushing and receiving.

That dual-threat stat (300/300 and 5/5) is something just 12 other AQ-conference players have done in the past decade, and some of the names are worth noting: Todd Gurley, De'Anthony Thomas, Giovanni Bernard, Montee Ball, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray, Brian Leonard and Percy Harvin. Not bad company for NC State's sophomore tailback.

Quick hitters

  • Duke ran 46 of its 82 plays Saturday in Virginia Tech territory, but came away with just one touchdown. In its two losses, Duke has two touchdowns on just two of 18 drives into opponent territory. In its eight wins, Duke scores 50 percent of the time it crosses midfield.
  • From ESPN Stats & Info: Georgia Tech has won four straight ACC games by 20 points or more. That ties the second-longest streak in the conference in the last decade.
  • Duke Johnson topped 90 yards rushing for the 12th straight game. In the last decade, only two other Power 5 running backs have had longer streaks.
  • FSU running back Dalvin Cook is averaging 10.7 yards-per-rush when the Seminoles are trailing.
  • North Carolina is the only team in the country to have scored 40 points in five different games and also allowed 40 points in five different games.
  • More from ESPN Stats & Info: Brad Kaaya was 5-of-6 for 150 yards and two touchdowns against FSU's blitz in the first half Saturday. He was 1-of-6 for 9 yards against the blitz in the second half.
  • Both Kaaya and Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer saw extended streaks without an INT end last week. That leaves the ACC's longest active streak of passes without a pick in the hands of Chad Voytik (66).
  • Oddly, the Hokies are now 5-2 in games when Brewer throws an interception and 0-3 when he doesn't.
  • Three of the top six Power 5 quarterbacks in non-sack rushing yards reside in the ACC. Tyler Murphy (1,117) is first, Thomas (881) is fourth and Marquise Williams (763) is sixth. Voytik ranks 12th with 527 and Jacoby Brissett is 13th with 517.
  • Georgia Tech failed to score a rushing touchdown in a game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2012 in a loss to BYU. The last time Tech didn't rush for a TD and still won was a 24-20 victory over Wake Forest in 2010.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
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It was another wild weekend in the ACC. Here are our takeaways from it:

The road still goes through FSU. This time the deficit was 16, on two separate occassions. No matter. Dalvin Cook's late touchdown clinched a 30-26 FSU win in Miami -- its 26th straight win and its fifth straight victory over the rival Hurricanes. Mississippi State fell at Alabama, which leaves the Seminoles as the lone unbeateen Power 5 team. Say what you want about their style, but the Noles are taking care of business, with just Boston College and Florida left before the ACC title game, in which they clinched a berth earlier Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDalvin Cook's 26-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter completed Florida State's comeback.
Clemson can't catch a break at QB. In his first game back since breaking a bone in his right hand, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a knee injury, the severity of which is unknown. Coach Dabo Swinney said ligament damage is a possibility, which would be a crushing blow to the freshman sensation. Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions in Watson's place, including two pick-sixes, and the Tigers managed just 190 total yards of offense in the 28-6 loss.

Georgia Tech continues to shock us all. Who saw this coming? The Yellow Jackets routed Clemson to get their fourth straight win and improved to 9-2 on the season before their season finale against rival Georgia. They finish 6-2 in ACC play and have a shot at the ACC title after Duke's loss at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils are 4-2 in league play and will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they win out.

NC State is going bowling. The Wolfpack ran away from Wake Forest early and notched a 42-13 victory that got them bowl-eligible for the fourth time in five years and the first time under second-year coach Dave Doeren. Matt Dayes tallied 113 total yards from scrimmage to lead the way.

Virginia Tech, UNC keep bowl hopes alive. The Hokies notched an upset at No. 21 Duke 17-16 to get to win No. 5 with two games remaining, at Wake Forest and vs. Virginia. Say what you want about the performance of the program this season, but it could not afford to see its bowl-game streak end. It probably won't now, after forcing three turnovers from a Blue Devils team that had been so sharp at protecting the ball. UNC got to the five-win mark as well, thanks to more late-game theatrics from Marquise Williams and T.J. Logan, who dealt Pitt a tough 40-35 loss.

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

NC State Wolfpack season preview

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
10:30
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the NC State Wolfpack:

Key returners: RB Shadrach Thornton (768 yards, 4 TD), WR Bryan Underwood (32 catches, 382 yards), OT Joe Thuney, DE Art Norman (9 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DT Thomas Teal (10.5 TFL, 3 sacks), S Hakim Jones (61 tackles, 2 INT), LB Brandon Pittman (63 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: WR Rashard Smith, WR Quintin Payton, DB Dontae Johnson, LB D.J. Green, LB Robert Caldwell

Most important games: Sept. 27 versus FSU, Oct. 4 at Clemson, Oct. 18 at Louisville, Nov. 29 at North Carolina

Projected win percentage: .479

Vegas over/under: 5.5 wins

[+] EnlargeShadrach Thornton
MCT via Getty ImagesShadrach Thornton rushed for 768 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Instant impact newcomers: Jacoby Brissett sat out 2013 after transferring from Florida. He’ll now be counted on not just as the team’s starting quarterback, but as its offensive leader and, in many ways, the program’s savior. Freshman wideout Bo Hines had a huge spring game and has quickly emerged as one of Brissett’s favorite targets. Defensive end Kentavius Street and tackle Justin Jones could add some serious physicality to a defensive line that was often boom-or-bust in 2013.

Biggest question mark: For a team that went winless in ACC play last year, there are plenty of question marks. Brissett’s emergence is chief among them, but coach Dave Doeren seems more than pleased with his QB. Who will emerge among the young receivers for Brissett to throw to? Can the offensive line protect better than it did a year ago? Can the defensive line be more consistently disruptive? Can injured veterans like Underwood, Rob Crisp and Jarvis Byrd come back to make an impact? The list goes on and on, but there’s certainly hope that the Wolfpack have far more answers than they did a year ago.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Brissett proves to be the answer to many of last year’s offensive woes and instantly transforms the Wolfpack into a more dynamic team. The running game proves a strength and the defensive line routinely disrupts the opposition’s game plan. Injured veterans return and young depth emerges. NC State improves as the season progresses, pulls off an upset or two, and returns to postseason play with seven or eight wins.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Brissett isn’t the answer State’s fans had hoped for, and he struggles with a shaky supporting cast. The offensive line never comes together and the defensive front can’t stop the run. Early tests against FSU and Clemson sink the season, and the Wolfpack limp to another lowly finish in an increasingly difficult division.

Number to know: 100, 100, 100. State tailback Matt Dayes is one of just four returning ACC players to accumulate 100 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game last year. He’s not exactly entrenched atop the Wolfpack’s depth chart now, but Doeren did show a propensity for utilizing his most versatile talent last season, when Rashard Smith topped 100 yards rushing (121), receiving (530), on kick returns (310) and punt returns (240). Dayes could easily fill a similar all-purpose role this year.

They said it: “He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position.” - Doeren on Brissett’s role as the team’s leader

NC State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
7:00
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Three things we learned in the spring about the North Carolina State Wolfpack:

1. Having a quarterback helps. Last spring, the NC State offense looked dismal and new coach Dave Doeren didn’t know who his quarterback would be. That problem persisted throughout the fall, and the Wolfpack went winless in ACC play. Now that Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is eligible to play, however, there’s a consistency on offense that was missing throughout 2013. More importantly, Doeren knows who his QB is, and Brissett can play the role of leader throughout the offseason.

2. Hines is a playmaker. NC State had a huge class of early enrollees, and while all made strides this spring, it was Bo Hines who stood out. The freshman had a fabulous spring game, catching 10 passes for 132 yards. It wasn’t just a big day in front of fans either. Doeren raved that Hines made at least one play every day throughout spring practice.

3. There’s depth at tailback. Shad Thornton finished sixth in the ACC in rushing last season, but after a strong spring by NC State’s tailbacks, the starting job won’t just be handed to the incumbent. Thornton worked on the second-team offense in the spring game, while Doeren praised Tony Creecy and Matt Dayes, too, and with a QB who can force defenses to respect the passing game, there could be plenty of yards to be had on the ground in 2014 for the Wolfpack.

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesFlorida transfer Jacoby Brissett will start at quarterback for the Wolfpack in 2014.
1. Will other young receivers step up? Hines impressed. Veteran Bryan Underwood looks healthy and should be a leader. But what about the rest of Brissett’s weapons in the passing game? The Wolfpack need more consistency out of sophomores Jumichael Ramos and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Hines’ fellow early enrollee Stephen Louis didn’t have a catch in the spring game.

2. Has the pass rush improved? It’s hard to make any grand pronouncements based on the spring game, where QBs weren’t live, but both the first- and second-string defenses racked up five sacks on the day. That’s the good news, but the defensive front remains young and inexperienced, with nowhere to go but up after last year’s D mustered a league-worst 20 sacks.

3. Can Doeren develop depth? Doeren has been quick to point out that 70 percent of NC State’s roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, which means there’s not a ton of experience down the depth chart. That showed up in the spring game when the No. 2 defense did little to corral Brissett and the second-string offense produced a mere 65 yards. There are reasons for optimism with early enrollee safety Germaine Pratt (an INT in the spring game) and receiver-turned-pass rusher Pharoah McKever, among others, but the staff has its work cut out for it in developing the raw materials into productive players.

One way-too-early prediction: Yes, the Wolfpack were 0-8 in ACC play last season, but there weren’t many blowouts. Doeren’s crew showed plenty of fight despite a litany of problems, and that’s a good sign for what’s to come in 2014. The big change, however, is Brissett, who breathes new life into the offense and provides some real direction for NC State going forward. A conference title probably isn’t in the cards, but a bowl appearance wouldn’t be unrealistic.
NC State is entering its second season under coach Dave Doeren, and those within the program were encouraged by what they saw this spring and have said the program is slowly heading in the right direction. The Pack is stuck in the Atlantic Division with heavyweights FSU, Clemson and now Louisville, and will be a young team this fall. I spoke with offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Monday to get his take on how the offense looked this spring. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What was your take on the progress Jacoby Brissett made this spring being in a new role?

[+] EnlargeMatt Canada
Photo courtesy of NCSU AthleticsMatt Canada has seen improved continuity and understanding from his offensive players.
Matt Canada: He did a great job learning the system throughout the year [when] he was ineligible to play and made an impact on us as a leader throughout that time and certainly showed a lot about who he was in the past year. Once we got to the spring and he could actually practice, I think his understanding of the offense improved every day. Not that it wasn’t good, but when you’re out there getting the reps, it’s going to improve just based on repetition and experience. He did a nice job leading the group and leading the offense. The kids on offense would all point to him as their leader on offense now. He took care of the ball well for the most part throughout the spring, and I was pleased about that.

What kinds of things does he need to still focus on during summer camp?

MC: Just experience. I think he’ll do a great job this summer learning and understanding the offense better, the timing with the receivers. He was throwing it to the top receivers now, and we’ve got some young kids in as well, so getting the timing down.

How did the running game look this spring?

MC: It’s improved. I think our running backs had a very good spring, as far as the way they worked and the versatility they had. Tony Creecy is a guy who is a great leader for us, had a very good spring and did a lot of things. Matt Dayes was much improved. He played as a freshman last year, but Matt really, his body changed and he has really jumped in with both feet to what we’re doing in the weight room, and his conditioning. He looked like a Division I big-time back, and that was exciting for us to see. Those two guys really I felt had a very good spring. Obviously having a good spring means we’re improving up front. We still have some work to do, but the offensive line is getting better and getting older and more mature and continuing to put that together.

Where do you think the biggest growth has occurred between Year 1 and Year 2 in what you’ve seen from the offense?

MC: The kids know what we’re striving for, what we’re looking for. I think they understand the system better, they understand what we’re trying to do. They’re a year into it, they’re going to be better. We have some different guys coming in and playing with some different skill sets we didn’t have and that helps us some, and I think like anybody else will tell you after a year, they’re more comfortable with the terminology. And we’re excited about Jacoby and what he brings to the table and his experience, talent and leadership -- all those things. It’s certainly a benefit for us.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesNC State has a leader at quarterback in transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Is there any particular area you think you’ll be better, whether it’s running the ball, eliminating turnovers or anything like that?

MC: Last year was a challenging year. Every week it was like we had somebody else out. We never really got into a rhythm, from quarterbacks going back and forth to up front. We were playing musical chairs there for a good part of the start of the year. The receivers were the same way. We had some guys making plays and they’d get hurt. Just having everybody through the spring and letting them get better, for the most part we were able to have a pretty healthy spring that allowed us to get some continuity. I think we’re going to be better at all of it. I think we’ll run it better, I think we’ll throw it better. I think we’ll be better at everything. What we’ll focus on and what will be our strength, I’m not ready to say that. We’ll get into the season and see how we develop, but I do think we’ll be better in all aspects.

What are a few things you still really want to accomplish this summer?

MC: We are young at some spots. We’re a very young team, so I think just them studying tape and learning football IQ and understanding the game is very important. And then just overall strength and conditioning, because we are very young. I know coach has talked about extensively a number of freshmen and sophomores we’re going to have playing next year, so while it will be Year 2, we have a young team so both strength and conditioning-wise and football knowledge is something we have to work on every day.

ACC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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Thanks again to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments from all of these schools for the tidbits.

Pitt: The Panthers have played 12 different true freshmen this season, and they are led by rookies in seven different categories. James Conner is their top rusher (353 yards), and receiver Tyler Boyd is their top pass-catcher (23 receptions), scorer (30 points), kick returner (178 yards) and all purpose threat (701 yards). Kicker Chris Blewitt, meanwhile, is the team's top kick-scorer (26 points), while defensive back Terrish Webb is tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries (1).

Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech has allowed just 30 points in the second half, the second-fewest in the ACC. Pitt has scored just 38 points in the second half, the fewest in the ACC. Quarterback Logan Thomas has faced a lot of criticism over the last two seasons but has stepped up his play recently for the Hokies, as he has not thrown an interception in his last two games after getting picked off in each of his previous five games.

Duke: The Blue Devils have displayed remarkable consistency on their offensive line in recent years, as they started Perry Simmons (RT), Laken Tomlinson (RG), Dave Harding (LG) and Takoby Cofield (RT) together in 18 straight games. Simmons, Tomlinson and Harding have started 28 o the past 30 games together. Duke's starting offensive linemen have a combined 128 starts, the most in the ACC. Simmons' 42 straight starts leads the ACC. Center Matt Skura is the only newcomer to the grope this year.

Virginia: Speaking of offensive lines, and upperclassmen ... the Cavaliers have actually gone the opposite way of Duke this season, using three freshmen on their offensive line this season, the most in the nation. Eric Smith started at right tackle last week against Ball State, making him the fourth true freshman in Virginia history to start at offensive tackle. The others are D'Brickashaw Ferguson (2002, LT), Brad Butler (2002, RT) and current starting left tackle Morgan Moses (2010, RT).

Maryland: Andre Monroe had a sack against Florida State, raising his season total to 3.5. The Terrapins are now the only team in the ACC and one of only three teams in the nation (Louisville, USC) to have three different players with at least three sacks on the season, Marcus Whitfield has 5.5 and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil has three. Maryland's 18 sacks on the season are third in the ACC and and fourth nationally.

Syracuse: The Orange are making their ACC road debut this weekend at NC State. Their last conference road debut came at Pitt in 1991, when Syracuse beat the Panthers in its Big East debut, the first of six straight conference road wins the Orange had to start their Big East tenure. Conversely, the Wolfpack are 6-0 all-time against the Orange, most recently beating them 38-17 in 1998. Syracuse was ranked in the top-20 in each of the last two meetings.

NC State: The Wolfpack call it "Rushing Roulette," as they have had five different players lead them in rushing through their first five games. None of those players, however, have eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Matt Dayes (84) led NC State on the ground against Louisiana Tech, followed by Tony Creecy (56) against Richmond, Bryan Underwood (54) against Clemson, Shad Thornton (71) against Central Michigan and Pete Thomas (60) against Wake Forest.

Boston College: The Eagles have lost four of their last five meetings with Clemson, but there have been some key BC wins against the Tigers — notably, BC’s first ACC win in 2005, at Clemson. And in each of the next two years, BC beat ranked Clemson teams. Those BC wins all came before Dabo Swinney took over as Clemson’s head coach. The last time BC knocked off a team ranked third or higher in the AP Poll was 1993, when it beat No. 1 Notre Dame on the road on a last-second field goal. The win landed Boston College on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Since then, BC is 0-6 against teams ranked third or higher, though the Eagles did beat No. 4 Notre Dame 14-7 in 2002.

Clemson: Tajh Boyd continues to light it up and will look to follow up his performance last week against Syracuse when he threw for a school-record 455 yards. That broke his own record, which he set last season against Wake Forest, by 27 yards. This week he needs just 220 yards of total offense to pass Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton for second place on the ACC career total offense list.

Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech leads the FBS in rushing yards by the quarterback position (718), while BYU is second with 579 yards. But the Yellow Jackets' passing offense, never a strong suit since Paul Johnson became head coach, has been awful lately, even by program standards. During its last two games, Georgia Tech has completed just 30.2 percent of its throws, the nation's worst mark during that stretch, while averaging just 105 passing yards per game. They have tallied no passing touchdowns and four interceptions, with a total QBR of 30.9.

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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Kudos to Heather for correctly picking Ball State to upset Virginia last week. Neither one of us thought Wake Forest would beat NC State, but the Deacs proved us wrong. So did Florida State and Clemson. What were we thinking picking such close games?

Heather won the week, going 6-1, while Andrea went 5-2. AA still has a one-game lead over HD in the overall standings. Now on to the picks!


Pitt (3-1, 2-1) at No. 24 Virginia Tech (5-1 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #PITTvsVT. We have talked all week about Pitt's four-game winning streak in the series, dating back to their days as Big East rivals. But that streak is going to come to an end in Blacksburg. The matchup between the standout Pitt receivers and the terrific Virginia Tech secondary is one to watch, but here is where the Hokies have the major advantage -- up front. The Pitt offensive line is coming off its worst performance of the season and now has to face one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC. Virginia Tech has 19 sacks on the season and leads the league in rushing defense.

AA's pick: Virginia Tech 28, Pitt 17

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 21, Pitt 17


Navy (3-1) at Duke (3-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NAVYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils have a few advantage going into this game. They already have faced a similar-style team in Georgia Tech, and they got an extra week to prepare. Unfortunately for them, they did end up losing to the Jackets, a team that has since dropped two straight. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is playing extremely well for the Midshipmen right now, and their defense is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Whether quarterback Anthony Boone returns or not, AA is calling for the upset.

AA's pick: Navy 35, Duke 34

HD’s pick: Given the extra week and the game against Georgia Tech earlier, there’s no excuse for the Blue Devils not to be prepared for this one. They’re averaging 38 points at home and should be able to expose weaknesses in Navy’s run defense. This is the kind of game the program needs to win to get to the postseason on a routine basis. Duke 31, Navy 28


Virginia (2-3, 0-1) at Maryland (4-1, 0-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #UVAvsMD. We will get an update on Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown later today, when the Terps are required to release their injury report. Coach Randy Edsall has been mum all week on whether Brown (concussion) would play. Whether he does or not, Edsall is going to have to get his team to forget about what happened in a 63-0 drubbing at Florida State. Reports have said that the Maryland offensive line tipped its plays based on its stances. The good news for the Terps is they are facing a reeling Virginia team that has lost three straight to FBS teams. In four games against FBS opponents, the Hoos are averaging 14.8 points.

AA's pick: Maryland 21, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Maryland 24, Virginia 10


Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) at NC State (3-2, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsNCST. Both teams come into the game off disheartening losses, but probably more so for NC State. The Wolfpack were expected to beat Wake Forest, but managed their lowest scoring and yardage output of the season. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell could return, but even if he sits out another week, getting running back Matt Dayes and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling back will help. NC State has a Top 20 rushing defense, and that will be a huge key to slowing down the Orange, who racked up over 300 yards on the ground last week against Clemson.

AA's pick: NC State 28, Syracuse 24

HD’s pick: NC State 31, Syracuse 21

Boston College (3-2, 1-1) at No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0), ABC/ESPN2. #BCvsCLEM. We can't say enough about the job coach Steve Addazio and his staff have done in transforming one of the worst-run offenses in the nation a year ago into a group that has produced the country's leading rusher in yards per game in Andre Williams (153.6). If there was one area where the Tigers struggled last week in a blowout win over Syracuse, it was stopping the run. We don't anticipate the same mistakes this week. Boston College is better, but not good enough to beat Clemson.

AA's pick: Clemson 40, Boston College 13

HD’s pick: Clemson 42, Boston College 17


Georgia Tech (3-2) at BYU (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #GTvsBYU. The Jackets have lost two straight after starting 3-0 and now have to travel to play BYU, a team that embarrassed them last year in Atlanta 41-17. Georgia Tech did not score an offensive touchdown in that game. So far this season, Vad Lee has not done much since his terrific performance against Duke. Of the six turnovers the Jackets have had in their last two losses, Lee is responsible for five of them (three interceptions, two fumbles). Tough to see improvement this week against one of the better defenses this team will face all year. It's the third straight week Georgia Tech will play a defense ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in total D.

AA's pick: BYU 28, Georgia Tech 17

HD’s pick: BYU 35, Georgia Tech 28

Ranking the ACC's impact freshmen

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is a throwback, and he's never been eager to play his freshmen too early. In his career at the helm of the Demon Deacons, just 22 true freshmen have seen action. And yet, in 2013, Grobe has already played 11 more.

It's a sign of the times that true freshmen are making an instant impact, and that's been particularly true in the ACC. And while virtually every program has seen some results from its Class of 2013 already, these five classes have produced the most through four weeks.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesIn FSU's season opener, Jalen Ramsey became the Noles' first true freshman cornerback to start a game since Deion Sanders in 1986.
1. Pittsburgh: According to ESPN's rankings, Pitt had the 41st-ranked recruiting class last season, but few programs have gotten more production from their freshmen right off the bat than the Panthers. Pitt has played 12 true freshmen already this season, including two of the nation's best. Tailback James Conner ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and receiver Tyler Boyd has been electric, ranking fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. Including receiver Scott Orndoff and kicker Chris Blewitt, freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pittsburgh's scoring this season.

2. Virginia Tech: The Hokies opened the season with two freshman defensive backs aiming to shut down the two-time defending champions. It was a major question mark, but Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller answered emphatically. Facyson has three interceptions and four passes defended so far, while Fuller has racked up 12 tackles, seven defended passes, six pass breakups and an interception. With the two freshmen starting all four games, Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks sixth in the nation.

3. NC State: Without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, the Wolfpack have had to find offense wherever they can, and two true freshmen have answered the call. Tailback Matt Dayes has racked up 143 yards on 37 carries so far, scoring three touchdowns. Meanwhile, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranks in the top 15 in the ACC in receiving yards, yards per reception and yards per game.

4. Florida State: Jalen Ramsey became the first Florida State cornerback to earn a starting assignment as a true freshman since Deion Sanders in the opener, and he didn't disappoint, picking off Pitt QB Tom Savage for the Seminoles' first takeaway of the season. Ramsey ranks sixth on the team with 12 tackles, and he's recorded one of FSU's six sacks. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker earned a start, too, and Matthew Thomas has two tackles for loss. In all, 13 freshmen have seen the field for FSU.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes have yet to see significant contributions from a number of members of their 15th-ranked recruiting class, but the early results from Gus Edwards, Alex Figueroa and Stacy Coley have offered a glimpse of what's to come. Edwards has carried just 18 times, but he's scored on three of those runs, and his 7.3 yards-per-carry average ranks fourth in the ACC. Coley has just five catches, but one went for a touchdown, and Figueroa has eight tackles and a sack for a particularly tough Miami linebacking corps.

Tyler Boyd leads ACC youth movement

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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True freshman receiver Tyler Boyd had one clear objective when he arrived at Pitt.

He wanted to make a statement.

Boyd had no intentions of redshirting. Not at all. So he went about practice to make one play after another, to impress his coaches enough to not only earn some reps in games -- but also to win a starting job.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News&Observer/Getty ImagesPitt receiver Tyler Boyd is one of many true freshmen who are making an impact in the ACC this season.
So far, Boyd has been one of the most impressive all-around players in the entire country, ranking No. 1 among all freshmen with an average of 195 all-purpose yards per game. But he is not unique to Pitt or to the ACC. There has been a youth movement across the league this season, featuring true freshmen starters at nearly every position on the field.

Five ACC teams have played double-digit true freshmen, tied with the SEC for the most in the nation. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe have played more true freshmen than at any point in their respective tenures. Of the 14 teams in the ACC, only four have not started a true freshman.

Pitt stands above the rest when it comes to true freshmen contributions, as Boyd is not the only one who has put up impressive numbers. Running back James Conner ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.7). The Panthers also feature true freshman kicker Chris Blewitt, the first time in 11 years they have started a first-year player at the position.

Overall, true freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pitt’s scoring output so far.

“I just knew I had a real strong opportunity to come in here and make a huge impact, especially since it’s my hometown,” Boyd said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to have everybody on board; my family, all my friends -- I wanted to make sure everybody was around to watch me do what I had to do.”

Virginia Tech is not far behind Pitt when it comes to immediate contributions from true freshmen. Ten have played, and five have started already this season. Four have started every game -- left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, cornerback Brandon Facyson, whip Kendall Fuller and kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig.

It is the first time Beamer has started a true freshman at left tackle and a true freshman at cornerback. Facyson already has three interceptions, tied for the ACC lead. Four games into the season, he also has tied the school record for interceptions by a freshman, set by DeAngelo Hall in 2001.

“It's been a great experience so far,” Facyson said in a recent phone interview. “Me and Kendall, we both had aspirations of coming in here and getting to work right away and helping the team out as much as we could. That's what we want to do is become a reliable source for the team. Even being true freshmen coming in, we didn't want the team to not believe in us so we had to come in here and really have our minds focused, and so far we've done that.”

Both the Pitt and Virginia Tech freshmen did not get eased into their college careers. The Panthers opened against No. 8 Florida State, while the Hokies opened against No. 1 Alabama. But the true freshmen were not intimidated.

Boyd had 151 all-purpose yards; the Hokies essentially shut down Alabama and top receiver Amari Cooper, holding him to four catches for 38 yards.

“I was a little bit nervous and cautious about everything,” Boyd said. “I didn’t want to mess up but my coaches and my teammates kept telling me to go out there and be calm, just relax, just stay comfortable with everything. Once I got the ball in my hand, I wanted to help my team.”

Facyson and Fuller have been able to help each other as true freshmen playing together on defense. The two are roommates, so they sometimes spend their down time in the dorm quizzing each other on formations and responsibilities.

“It’s honestly a good feeling just to have someone back there in my situation as well because you’re on the same level with them and only they truly understand the pressure,” Facyson said. “So we try to calm each other down, we try to hype each other up when it’s needed. We just want to have fun. We want to help our team out and just play for each other.”

Florida State (13), NC State (11) and Wake Forest (11) also have played double-digit freshmen. Like Pitt, NC State has gotten major contributions from true freshmen on offense. True freshmen lead the Wolfpack in both rushing (Matt Dayes, 37 carries for 143 yards) and receiving (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 14 receptions for 201 yards).

As for Wake, the true freshmen numbers are simply astounding. Before this year, the highest number of true freshman to ever play in a season under Grobe was three. Center Cory Helms is the lone true freshman starter -- the first true freshman to start his first collegiate game since defensive tackle Marvin Mitchell in 1987.

All around, freshmen are contributing. Now that we have seen so many talented youngsters so early in their careers, the question is: How good will they become in a few years’ time?

ACC predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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Not a bad start to the season for the ACC or us bloggers. Heather Dinich and I each went 11-1 with our picks. Hopefully another strong week awaits.

FRIDAY

Wake Forest (1-0) at Boston College (1-0), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2. The Eagles opened as an early favorite, which is somewhat surprising considering the Deacons have the better team. Both squads had some ups and downs in their openers against FCS competition last week, but from my seat, the Wake defense looked much better than BC's. The Deacs produced six turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown. That is why I give Wake the advantage in this game.

AA picks: Wake Forest 20, Boston College 17

HD picks: Wake Forest 24, Boston College 20

SATURDAY

No. 12 Florida (1-0) at Miami (1-0), noon, ESPN. The Hurricanes have an excellent opportunity to make a statement against their former archrivals in the final scheduled regular-season meeting between the programs. Miami has the best offensive player on the field in Duke Johnson, but he will be playing against a formidable defense -- perhaps the best he will see all season. I do not think Miami can physically match up on the offensive and defensive lines and will get worn down as the game goes on. Florida might not have as many explosive players on offense, but its defense will rise to the occasion.

AA picks: Florida 23, Miami 17

HD picks: Florida 31, Miami 24

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at North Carolina (0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Tar Heels had a disappointing performance in a loss to South Carolina, especially from their defense. UNC's defensive front got no pressure on the quarterback and could not stop the run. The secondary got beat on several long passes downfield. Middle Tennessee upset Georgia Tech last season, but I don't see a similar outcome in this one. North Carolina will get a much better game out of Bryn Renner and its defense.

AA picks: North Carolina 44, Middle Tennessee 20

HD picks: North Carolina 42, Middle Tennessee 21

South Carolina State (0-1) at No. 4 Clemson (1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Tigers have to guard against the letdown factor after such an emotional win over Georgia last week. They now have their highest ranking since 1988, and the nation will be expecting a blowout against an FCS team. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants the offense to play faster, so that is one key to watch.

AA picks: Clemson 63, South Carolina State 7

HD picks: Clemson 55, South Carolina State 0

Western Carolina (0-1) at Virginia Tech (0-1), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Hokies have all sorts of issues to work out on offense and special teams. Coach Frank Beamer promises changes to correct the mistakes that allowed Alabama to score twice on kick returns last week. Receivers have got to do more to help out Logan Thomas. One injury note: Virginia Tech hopes to have running back J.C. Coleman available. This is a team the Hokies should dominate. Now, they have to do it.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 41, Western Carolina 3

HD picks: Virginia Tech 35, Western Carolina 3

No. 2 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. Oregon makes its first trip to ACC country on Saturday, becoming just the third top-three nonconference team to play in Charlottesville. The UVa defense looked strong in its Week 1 win over BYU, but the Ducks present quite a different challenge given the pace and production they get out of their offense. Oregon rolled up 772 yards last week in a win over Nicholls State. Gulp. Simply put, the Hoos just do not have the personnel on offense and defense to keep up.

AA picks: Oregon 45, Virginia 17

HD picks: Oregon 45, Virginia 17

Old Dominion (0-1) at Maryland (1-0), 4 p.m., ESPNews. The Terps hope to build off an impressive performance in Week 1. C.J. Brown was terrific in his return to the field, and we all saw what this offense is capable of with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Taking a peek ahead, the schedule sets up for Maryland to go 4-0 in nonconference play.

AA picks: Maryland 48, Old Dominion 10

HD picks: Maryland 42, Old Dominion 7

Duke (1-0) at Memphis (0-0), 4:30 p.m., ESPN3. This is not going to be a walk-over for the Blue Devils. Memphis is a much improved team than it was several seasons ago. And much improved over the team Duke beat at the start of last season. The Tigers have a new quarterback but return a majority of their starters, including two standouts on the defensive line in Johnnie Farms and Martin Ifedi. This will be a good early road test for the Blue Devils.

AA picks: Duke 35, Memphis 20

HD picks: Duke 38, Memphis 24

Syracuse (0-1) at No. 19 Northwestern (1-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network. The Orange dropped a heartbreaker to Northwestern to open last season. Now they hit the road to face them again after a disappointing loss to Penn State. Syracuse has some problems to fix on offense, and it needs a better effort out of quarterback Drew Allen in this game. The Orange also have to do a better job of establishing the run if they are going to have any chance to win.

AA picks: Northwestern 28, Syracuse 21

HD picks: Northwestern 35, Syracuse 17

Richmond (1-0) at NC State (1-0), 6 p.m. ESPN3. The Spiders are one of the best teams in FCS and have notched wins over Duke in the past, so this is not a team that should be taken lightly -- especially after the FCS upsets in Week 1. Quarterback Pete Thomas gets his shot to start, but keep an eye on the running back rotation now that Shadrach Thornton returns to the lineup. Freshman Matt Dayes had a big game last week against Louisiana Tech, so coach Dave Doeren says he will use a three-man rotation with Tony Creecy, Thornton and Dayes.

AA picks: NC State 38, Richmond 13

HD picks: NC State 41, Richmond 10

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