ACC: Pete Thomas

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bye-bye, Clint and Jacob. Hello, Jacoby, Jake, Michael and Tyler?

You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerNot long after playing in Kansas' spring game in April, Jake Heaps transferred to Miami.
Two former Florida State quarterbacks could square off in Week 1 in Atlanta during an SEC-Big 12 matchup. Two former Florida quarterbacks are set to start in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Then there are a pair of downtrodden Coastal powers, both of which may be starting quarterbacks who did not even arrive on campus until this summer.

"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."

Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)

Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.

"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.

"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."

Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.

Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeEx-Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett enters this season as NC State's starter.
"Everyone needs success in their life, and if you're in a place where you're behind somebody or whatever you're not going to have it," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "To me, my whole thing is everyone needs success, and wherever you can do that, some of the guys that come through there, go somewhere where you can have success."

On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.

“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."

Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.

The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.

"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."

Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.

The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.

"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."

Phil Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams earlier this week, and it might have been noteworthy to some that the player he listed as his second-team quarterback — North Carolina’s Marquise Williams — isn’t currently assured of even keeping his starting job. That, of course, speaks to the quality of Williams’ competition (Mitch Trubisky has a little talent, too), but mostly to the lack of any established experience at the position around the ACC.

Of the ACC’s 14 teams, only Florida State and Virginia return quarterbacks who appeared in every one of their games last season — and Virginia's David Watford isn’t currently listed as the team’s starter this year.

None of this is a new story, of course, and we’ve already touched on what impact the turnover at quarterback might have this season around the league. Looking at last year’s records, the teams that returned quarterbacks saw an aggregate increase of nine wins, while teams with turnover at the position broke even.

Those victory totals only tell us so much, though. Florida State only increased its victory total by two with a new quarterback, but those were two pretty important wins. UNC’s victory total dipped by one game, but its returning quarterback wasn’t the one on the field when the Tar Heels were playing their best.

So we dug a little deeper into the numbers to see what impact, if any, a change at quarterback might have on the offense.

Looking just at 2013, there were five ACC teams that had the same starting quarterback in at least 75 percent of its games as it did the preceding year. Seven had changes at the position. The results were about what you might expect.



Overall, teams replacing a quarterback had a 1 percent dip in total offense and a 4 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with returning experience improved in both areas.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that both Florida State and Maryland represent outliers in this discussion. Florida State had a new QB, but Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy. He’s a unique talent. Maryland, meanwhile, was using a linebacker at quarterback by the end of 2012, so change was inherently a good thing for the Terps. If we take those two teams out of the equation, the numbers change a bit: Teams undergoing change at QB had a 6 percent dip in total offense and a 9 percent decline in yards per attempt.

So, that settles it, right? Change at quarterback means a decline in offensive production, which is bad news for the ACC in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesFlorida State had a new quarterback last season, and the Seminoles certainly didn't take a step back with Jameis Winston.
Not exactly.

In 2012, the vast majority of the ACC (9 of 12 teams) returned their starting QBs from 2011, and while those teams did have a slight increase in offensive production (1.75 percent, compared to a 4 percent decline for the three teams with turnover), the actual passing performances told a different story. The nine teams returning QBs actually had a 3 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with turnover (Maryland, Miami,Virginia) had a 6 percent increase.

Look at the numbers in 2011 for teams returning QBs, and the outcome is even more counter-intuitive. Five teams returned quarterbacks and had a 2.25 percent increase in yards per attempt and essentially broke even in total offense. The teams with turnover at QB, however, increased total offense by more than 3 percent and had a whopping 9.5 percent increase in yards per attempt from 2010.

In other words, in 2011 and 2012, change at quarterback didn’t make much of a difference. In fact, during the last three years collectively, teams that made a change at QB saw no discernible change in total offense and enjoyed a 2 percent increase in yards per attempt (better than the 0.67 percent increase for teams returning QBs).

So why did last year’s numbers paint such a scary picture?

The answer is probably that the returning quarterbacks in the league actually played a far smaller role in their respective offenses. Overall, the five teams returning QBs from 2012 had a whopping 15 percent decline in passing attempts per game, with Boston College being a prime example. Chase Rettig returned as QB, but BC’s attempts per game dipped from 39 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, while its yards per attempt jumped from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.5 last season.

In other words, the veteran quarterbacks probably had a little more help surrounding them (such as Andre Williams), while the young QBs were left to figure a lot out on their own (such as Pete Thomas).

As we look to 2014, there will no doubt be major question marks at QB for a lot of teams, but for many, there’s nowhere to go but up. And based on the numbers, there’s no reason a first-time starter can’t engineer those recoveries.


RALEIGH, N.C. -- If he’s being honest, the question makes Jacoby Brissett a bit uncomfortable. He hears it routinely -- from friends, from fans, from media eager to make him the headliner in NC State’s revitalization project -- and after three years waiting to be anointed the starter, he should be thrilled.

Still, every time someone asks Brissett what it feels like now that he’s the man -- the starting quarterback and offensive ring leader -- he feels compelled to downplay the significance of it all.

“I’m not big into that stuff,” Brissett said. “I’m like, ‘You don’t have to say that.’ I’m competing to remain the starter -- competing with myself, the guys around me, the other guys in the conference. You have a national championship quarterback in this conference, so I have a lot of catching up to do.”

It’s no surprise Brissett feels like he’s playing from behind. Three years ago, he got a taste of life as the starting quarterback at Florida. That door closed quickly though, and after a year on the bench in 2012, he transferred to NC State. NCAA rules forced Brissett to redshirt, so he spent last year again waiting on the sideline for his chance.

When a 3-9 campaign marked by offensive struggles concluded in December, NC State coach Dave Doeren officially put an end to Brissett’s wait, tabbing him as the Wolfpack’s starter for 2014. But Doeren’s decision wasn’t about finally giving Brissett his chance. It was an acknowledgement of everything the quarterback had done while he was waiting for it.

“The way he plays is part of it,” Doeren said, “but the way he interacts and leads is a big part of it.”

I'm not big into that stuff. I'm like, 'You don't have to say that.' I'm competing to remain the starter -- competing with myself, the guys around me, the other guys in the conference. You have a national championship quarterback in this conference, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

-- NC State QB Jacoby Brissett on the hype about him being the starting QB
Brissett came to NC State just a month after Doeren arrived. He’d been frustrated by his back-up role at Florida, and he needed a fresh start. A highly touted recruit out of high school, Brissett was again a hot commodity, but NC State -- and Doeren -- felt right.

“I was actually looking at West Virginia, but every time I was there, the coach kept saying something about [former quarterback] Geno [Smith],” Brissett said. “I’m like, I’m not Geno. I won’t be Geno. I just wanted to be Jacoby, and I feel like this is a place I can be Jacoby.”

That comfort level didn’t manifest overnight, however.

With just two quarterbacks on the roster last spring, Brissett got plenty of early work with the first-team offense, wowing coaches and teammates, but he was reluctant to take a leadership role. No matter how well he performed, his script for 2013 was already written. It was someone else’s team, and he didn’t want to muddy the waters.

When spring ended, however, it was clear to Doeren that he’d found his quarterback of the future. He called Brissett into his office and gave his quarterback a clear mandate.

“The guys need to know it will become your offense by how you practice, how you act, how you are in the locker room,” Doeren told him. “You can’t just be a ghost.”

Brissett offered assurances that wouldn’t happen, but even Doeren was surprised by how thoroughly he grabbed the reins.

Over the summer, Brissett helped organize practices. In the weight room and film room, he was a fixture. Once the season began, Brissett took his role on the scout team seriously, often frustrating NC State’s first-team defense in the process. It was clear the Wolfpack had a budding star.

“The other quarterbacks didn’t really look anyone off,” NC State safety Hakim Jones said. “With Jacoby, you never know what to expect from him. He seemed a lot more advanced.”

Then there was the famed road trip to Tallahassee, which is everyone’s favorite evidence of Brissett’s command of the team.

NC State had a road date with Florida State last October, but because he was a first-year transfer, Brissett couldn’t travel with the team. So he hopped in his car, made the 600-mile drive alone, and arrived -- complete with speeding ticket in Tallahassee -- in time for the game. Teammates were shocked to see him, but the image of Brissett still rallying his troops after NC State fell behind 42-0 at halftime is what stuck.

“Since he cared and he’s not even playing, it let us know it’s a serious matter, and we had to step it up,” receiver Bryan Underwood said.

For all Brissett’s emotion from the sideline, NC State’s offense was a mess throughout much of last season. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, an athletic runner, broke his foot in the opener. His backup, Pete Thomas, was a pure pocket passer, and Doeren was forced to adjust his game plan on the fly. The result was an enigmatic approach, and the Wolfpack never fully gelled around either QB.

This season, things are different, Doeren said. Brissett isn’t the dual-threat nightmare Doeren had in Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois, but he can make plays with his legs. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s a physical threat with an arm to match. NC State’s receiving corps is young, but Brissett has already established a standard he expects the group to meet. Even before Doeren made it official, the Wolfpack knew Brissett was in charge.

“His skill set is obviously good, and we all know that,” Underwood said. “But outside of throwing the ball and learning the plays, he’s that guy that we can say, he’s going to get us into shape.”

Underwood said he sees aspects of former Wolfpack QBs Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon -- both now starting in the NFL -- in Brissett, and that’s just the beginning of the praise for NC State’s new starter.

Fans get their first chance to see him in action Saturday when NC State holds its annual spring game, and the expectations are high. Brissett understands that, too. The wait was long, but it also served as the perfect preparation for what’s ahead.

“When you’re starting, it’s about making sure that everybody around knows why you’re quarterback,” Brissett said, “and make sure you’re being an example to look up to.”
Former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer will head to Virginia Tech in the summer and join the competition to win the starting job. But his addition to the group does not necessarily mean he becomes the front-runner to be the starter when the season kicks off.

While the Hokies do not have an obvious heir apparent to Logan Thomas, they will have several quarterbacks competing against each other when spring practice opens later this month. Based on experience alone, senior Mark Leal has an advantage. Coach Frank Beamer has said as much. But freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley will be getting plenty of looks this spring, and freshman Chris Durkin and Brewer arrive in the summer to add more fuel to the competition.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Orlando Ramirez/ Icon SMITexas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will not be guaranteed the starting quarterback position at Virginia Tech.
And that is all that can be definitively said at this point. There will be a competition to win this starting job. Period. Brewer will be given a shot just like everybody else. But at this point, he remains a wild card. He will have to play catch up with the playbook when he arrives. He will have to prove he is completely over a back injury that cost him a shot to start with the Red Raiders. He will have to prove he is best capable of improving an ineffective offense.

Will he be able to answer those questions? After he returned to practice from the injury last year, he could not unseat the two freshmen who jumped ahead of him on the depth chart. Does that speak more to Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, or more to the limitations Brewer might possess? We will find out soon enough.

Brewer, of course, is not the first quarterback to transfer into a school, nor will he be the last. We have seen an increase in quarterback transfers over the last few years, as players look for the best opportunity to advance themselves. We saw Russell Wilson leave NC State for Wisconsin in 2011 to major success. Jacob Coker left Florida State for Alabama earlier this year, Vad Lee left Georgia Tech for James Madison, and Pete Thomas also decided to transfer out of NC State -- the second transfer of his career.

We also have seen transfers come in to the ACC over the last few years. Some did not quite pan out. Phillip Sims came to UVa in 2012 from Alabama and was gone a year later; Drew Allen went from Oklahoma to Syracuse last year and lost his starting job after three games. Tom Savage had to transfer twice, but ultimately started every game for Pittsburgh last season.

The trend is not slowing down. Brewer now becomes the fourth quarterback transfer in the ACC looking to start in 2014. Of the four, Jacoby Brissett at NC State is the only lock to start. Florida transfer Tyler Murphy will try to win the starting job at Boston College, while former Memphis quarterback Ryan Williams appears to be the front-runner to start for Miami.

What will happen in the case of Virginia Tech? We probably will not have an answer until August.
Setting up spring in the ACC Atlantic.

Boston College

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
  • Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
  • Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Clemson

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
  • Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
  • Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Florida State

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
  • The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
  • Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Louisville

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
  • Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
  • New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
NC State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
  • The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
  • Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Syracuse

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
  • The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
  • Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Wake Forest

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
  • Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
  • The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
NC State senior quarterback Pete Thomas, who started six games last year, has decided to transfer following his graduation in May, the school announced on Friday.

While this move obviously is going to hurt the position's depth and experience, it also makes sense considering how blunt coach Dave Doeren has been about the future of the position -- which didn't seem to really include Thomas. Doeren had already declared Jacoby Brissett his starter, and Doeren told ESPN.com on Thursday that incoming quarterback Jalan McClendon was recruited specifically because he is a similar athlete to Brissett and could replace him if needed without having to change the offense.

This reinforces the fact Brissett and McClendon are now NC State's top two options.

"Pete has been a great teammate and a very positive representative of NC State Athletics,” Doeren said. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer. He will be missed as a teammate, player and person in our locker room."
Boston College and NC State have more in common than their division home.

They have both turned to former Florida quarterbacks for help this upcoming season.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsNew Boston College signal-caller Tyler Murphy started six games for the Gators in 2013.
Jacoby Brissett appears to be the future for the Wolfpack after sitting out 2013 because of NCAA transfer rules. Tyler Murphy, meanwhile, will get every opportunity to win the starting job after transferring to Boston College last week. Murphy has immediate eligibility for his final season as a graduate transfer student.

Brissett and Murphy spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as backups at Florida, talented dual-threat players hoping for an opportunity to start. Both earned their first career starts because of injury, but neither had much of a future with the Gators. In 2012, Brissett lost a competition to win the starting quarterback job to Jeff Driskel and opted to leave the program after the season ended.

In NC State, he found a program transitioning to a spread scheme under Dave Doeren that seems to be a perfect fit. Doeren had success with dual-threat quarterbacks Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois. With Doeren as coach in 2011, Harnish ranked No. 9 in the nation in total offense; in 2012, Doeren's final year with the Huskies, Lynch ranked No. 2 in the nation in the same category.

What was glaringly missing from the NC State offense in 2013 was an ability to run the spread scheme with Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell behind center. Doeren has already declared Brissett will be his starter headed into this season, even though Thomas returns.

Murphy also played behind Driskel but ended up starting six games this past season when Driskel got hurt. Murphy elected to transfer, however, knowing Driskel would be ahead of him on the depth chart again.

College football observers know Driskel has struggled for the bulk of his career in Gainesville after coming into the school as one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation. What does it say that neither Brissett nor Murphy could unseat a player who has led the Gators to some of their most anemic offensive showings in years?

Maybe it says that Brissett and Murphy are perhaps better suited for the spread option offenses both NC State and Boston College want to run. Boston College coach Steve Addazio recruited Murphy to Florida in 2010 when he was still an assistant there and the Gators still ran this type of offense. Florida transitioned away from this style when Will Muschamp was hired, leaving Brissett and Murphy ill-suited fits.

Addazio also has said he wants to diversify the offense with a dual-threat quarterback behind center, what he has done throughout his career. Murphy may have gone 2-4 last year in his starts with the Gators, but he is the only quarterback on the BC roster to have started a collegiate game. If Murphy wins the starting job, Addazio can better tailor the offense to his strengths, something that did not happen last year in Gainesville.

Things might not have worked out for Murphy or Brissett at Florida, but they are being given a second chance in the ACC. How they perform will go a long way toward determining how BC and NC State do in 2014.

Season wrap: NC State

January, 15, 2014
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NC State went into the season with a new head coach, a new starting quarterback, and new faces at just about every position on the field and the sideline. But nobody expected the Wolfpack to turn in one of the worst seasons in recent memory. Thanks to injuries, inconsistency at quarterback, and a scheme change on offense and on defense, NC State went 0-8 in ACC play, its first winless season in the league since 1959. The defense had moments when it played really well, especially in a close loss to Clemson in September. But neither Pete Thomas nor Brandon Mitchell proved adept enough at handling the spread scheme coach Dave Doeren brought with him from Northern Illinois, and the Wolfpack averaged just 22.8 points per game.

Offensive MVP: Rashard Smith. One of the bright spots on the offense was Smith, who led the team in receiving yards (530) and all-purpose yards (1,201). Smith ended up ranked No. 7 in the ACC in all-purpose yards and No. 3 in punt return average, returning two punts for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Robert Caldwell. The middle linebacker made quite an impact in his first year in the starting lineup. Caldwell led the team with 105 tackles, including 14.5 for loss. He ended up No. 3 in the ACC in tackles per game (8.8) and 10th in tackles for loss.

Best moment: The 40-14 victory over Louisiana Tech in the season opener. The way the Wolfpack handled a team that won nine games in 2012 gave many people hope there would be plenty to build off. But the injury to Mitchell in that game ended up costing the Wolfpack, who ended up with only two more wins (including a struggle over Richmond).

Worst moment: ACC play. We can single out the moment that could have changed the course of the season -- Bryan Underwood’s long TD run against Clemson that was called back because an official ruled he stepped out of bounds and whistled the play dead. The ACC later said it was “unclear” whether Underwood had indeed stepped out. The touchdown would have given the Wolfpack the lead. Clemson won 26-14.
With the rest of his teammates on a plane travelling to Florida State, NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett got in his car and drove roughly 600 miles to Tallahassee by himself -- just to be in the locker room for what would prove to be the Wolfpack’s most difficult game of the season.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Brissett -- who had to sit out this season after transferring from Florida -- was unable to travel to any games with the team. That didn’t stop him from getting there on his own.

NC State’s 2014 starting quarterback has already established himself as a leader.

Coach Dave Doeren said on Monday that Brissett has already earned the starting job for next fall, despite the return of Pete Thomas.

“Jacoby Brissett is our starting quarterback,” Doeren said.

[+] EnlargeDoeren
Ethan Hyman/Getty ImagesNC State coach Dave Doeren said Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will be his starting QB next season.
Brissett ran NC State’s scout team offense this season, and Doeren said his new starter was in every game plan meeting and every quarterback and team meeting.

“His leadership is phenomenal,” Doeren said. “I think it was a great year for him developmentally, from a mental standpoint. Our team respects him, our staff respects him. I don’t want to put undue pressure on him because he still has to go out and play football, but we’re all excited about his leadership at that position.”

Brissett has two years of eligibility remaining, and he could be the answer to one of NC State’s biggest problems en route to a winless season in the ACC and a 3-9 finish. At Florida, Brissett had played behind Jeff Driskel the entire 2012 season, but decided to transfer in mid-January after a perceived lack of opportunities.

There won’t be any lack of playing time next fall -- despite some depth at the position. Thomas, who threw four touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine games, along with Garrett Leatham, Josh Taylor and Bryant Shirreffs all return. Leatham and Shirreffs combined for just 22 pass attempts last year.

“I can’t talk about who we have committed, but we’re excited about who we’re recruiting at that position,” Doeren said. “Garrett Leatham is still coming back and so are Josh Taylor and Bryant Shirreffs. All of those guys had snaps this year other than Jacoby, and obviously he’s played in college football already, so I feel really good about the quarterback position moving forward.”

ACC predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
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Hard to believe that only two weeks remain in the regular season. Andrea is clinging to a one-game lead on Heather in the overall predictions standings at 71-20, after they each went 4-2 last week. Neither saw Maryland coming into Blacksburg, Va., and upsetting Virginia Tech. Bet we were not alone there.

On to the picks!

OLD DOMINION (8-3) at NORTH CAROLINA (5-5), noon, ESPN3. #ODUvsUNC. The Tar Heels are going for their fifth straight win and bowl eligibility against a team that is 0-2 against ACC competition already this year. Old Dominion has put up some points this season, but the Tar Heels' D has been vastly improved in this recent winning streak and will be able to shut the Monarchs down. With another punt return for score, Ryan Switzer would tie the ACC single-season record.

AA picks: North Carolina 40, Old Dominion 17

HD's pick: North Carolina 44, Old Dominion 24

DUKE (8-2, 4-2) at WAKE FOREST (4-6, 2-5), noon, ESPN2. #DUKEvsWF. Before winning last season, Duke had lost 12 straight games to the Deacs. But the Blue Devils today are the superior program, with better athletes all the way around. They have successfully used two quarterbacks all season, and their defense is filled with young talent and playmakers at linebacker. Duke is 3-0 on the road and should pick up another win against an offensively challenged Deacs team still trying to find some answers with Michael Campanaro out.

AA picks: Duke 35, Wake Forest 20

HD's pick: Duke 24, Wake Forest 21

CITADEL (5-6) at No. 7 CLEMSON (9-1), noon, ESPN3. #CITvsCLEM. It's senior day at Clemson, giving the Tigers the opportunity to honor Tajh Boyd and his fellow seniors. The question is just how much Boyd will play after bruising his collarbone last week, especially with a big game looming next week against South Carolina. Coach Dabo Swinney says he prefers to have an FCS opponent in this slot, giving the Tigers ample time to prepare for their in-state nemesis.

AA picks: Clemson 56, The Citadel 3

HD's pick: Clemson 45, The Citadel 10

VIRGINIA (2-8, 0-6) at MIAMI (7-3, 3-3), noon, ESPNU. #UVAvsMIA. Miami's issues against UVa are common knowledge, so this game sets up to be closer than what some might anticipate. Plus, the Hurricanes have lost three straight after a 7-0 start and have seen their defense drop off considerably. Virginia does not scream offensive juggernaut, but neither did Virginia Tech and the Hokies racked up 42 points in a win two weeks ago. The Hoos have a solid back in Kevin Parks, No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and a good tight end in Jake McGee, who will make some plays, but ultimately, Stephen Morris and the Miami offense will make a few more plays to win.

AA picks: Miami 28, Virginia 27

HD's pick: Miami 34, Virginia 24

EAST CAROLINA (8-2) at NC STATE (3-7), ESPN3. #ECUvsNCST. The Pirates took down North Carolina earlier this year, nearly beat Virginia Tech, and go into this game as the favorites. NC State has looked like a ragged bunch, losing six straight in its worst season since 2006. There is no doubt East Carolina has the much better quarterback, as Shane Carden has turned in an outstanding season. But NC State is going to find a way to dig deep and come out with a win thanks to a few big plays from its pass game.

AA picks: NC State 28, East Carolina 24

HD's pick: East Carolina 41, NC State 14: ECU is No. 10 in the country in scoring offense at 41.5 points per game, and Carden leads the No. 8 passing offense in the country. The Pirates undoubtedly have the edge at quarterback, as NC State has struggled with both Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas. The two have combined for 15 interceptions and five touchdowns. Carden threw that many TDs by himself last week. If North Carolina was embarrassed by the Pirates at home, there’s no reason to believe the Wolfpack will fare much better. ECU is a solid eight-win team that, unlike NC State, is bowl eligible.

PITT (5-5, 2-4) at SYRACUSE (5-5, 3-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsCUSE. This game is a toss-up, as is nearly every league game these two teams have played this season (excluding Clemson and Florida State). Both are coming off losses, and both need one win for bowl eligibility. The problem for the Panthers is they have no real identity on offense. Syracuse does, and that is pounding the football. The Orange will get enough out of their run game and keep Aaron Donald at bay to win a close one.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Pitt 23

HD's pick: Syracuse 21, Pitt 17

ALABAMA A&M (4-7) at GEORGIA TECH (6-4), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3. #AAMUvsGT. Like Clemson and Florida State, Georgia Tech also gets a warm-up game before it closes with its in-state rival next week. Coach Paul Johnson says the focus is on getting better at what his team does this week. You can bet Robert Godhigh will have another terrific performance, following his 100-yard rushing/100-yard receiving day against Clemson. Godhigh is on pace to set the ACC mark for highest average yards per carry, currently at 9.5.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Alabama A&M 3

HD's pick: Georgia Tech 56, Alabama A&M 10

IDAHO (1-9) at No. 2 FLORIDA STATE (10-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #IDAHOvsFSU. Once again, the question is how long will Jimbo Fisher keep his starters in, especially with a bigger game against rival Florida looming. This also seems as good a time as any to get backup quarterback Sean Maguire some reps. Idaho is one of the worst teams in the entire country, and this game should be out of hand by the end of the first quarter.

AA picks: Florida State 65, Idaho 0

HD's pick: FSU 72, Idaho 3

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-4, 3-3) at MARYLAND (6-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsMD. This may have been the toughest game to pick this week. Maryland is coming off an impressive win at Virginia Tech, while Andre Williams has put together two straight games of incredible performances. So which direction will this game go? It is hard to pick against the Eagles given what Williams and the offensive line have done this season. Simply put, they have worn the opposition down. Maryland has had injuries to contend with on defense, so I think BC will end up wearing the Terps down in the end.

AA picks: BC 24, Maryland 21

HD's pick: Maryland 21, Boston College 17: This game could go either way, but with it being the final home game in Byrd Stadium, it was hard to pick against the Terps. More importantly, Maryland has fared well this year in stopping the run, and is ranked No. 30 in the country in rushing defense, holding opponents to 139.8 yards per game. Boston College has made its living this fall with its running game, and Williams is certainly no secret. The Terps will be looking to slow down the ACC’s all-time single-season rushing leader, and they’ve also got the advantage in quarterback with C.J. Brown.

Player of the week: ACC

November, 11, 2013
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It’s been 19 years since Duke last had a winning season, and while this year’s success has been a team effort, the Blue Devils can thank safety DeVon Edwards for making the biggest contribution in getting that elusive win No. 7.

Edwards scored three times in Saturday’s 38-20 victory over NC State, turning a close game into an easy win with a monster fourth quarter.

For the second consecutive game, Duke’s offense struggled throughout much of the game, but the defense set the tone. Edwards, a redshirt freshman, was at the forefront.

Trailing 13-10, Edwards returned an NC State kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The Wolfpack answered with an 80-yard touchdown of their own midway through the fourth quarter to regain a 20-17 lead, but it was short-lived. After Brandon Connette scored on a 5-yard run to regain the lead for Duke, Edwards took over the game on defense.

Edwards intercepted Brandon Mitchell’s first pass of the next drive, returning it 25 yards for a score. After the kickoff, Pete Thomas took over at quarterback for the Wolfpack and repeated Mitchell’s mistake. Thomas’ first pass was again picked off by Edwards, who returned that one 45 yards for a touchdown. In the span of 26 seconds on the game clock, Duke scored 21 points.

Edwards became the first FBS player in 10 years to record three non-offensive touchdowns in a game. His 100-yard kickoff return is tied for the second-longest in Duke’s history, and his 218 total yards is the second-best performance by a Blue Devils freshman.

The staggeringly impressive defensive performance was the latest example of a new formula for Duke, whose offense has mustered just 519 yards in its last two games, but won both games thanks to the defense.

The Blue Devils have eight takeaways in their last two games, and their defense and special teams have accounted for five touchdowns already this season. After allowing a whopping 127 points in a dismal three-game stretch midseason, Duke’s rejuvenated defense has allowed just 59 points total in its last four.

Edwards, meanwhile, is the only ACC player with two interception returns for touchdowns this season.
Brandon Mitchell stayed at home Saturday night. He spent his second bye weekend of the season watching Florida State's primetime showcase at Clemson. He had recorded the game, too, so he watched it again later. He noticed the speed of the Seminoles' defense, realized how tight the timing must be with his receivers and looked for hints, any hints, the unit was giving off that he could potentially exploit the next time he took the field.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
James Guillory/USA TODAY SportsNC State signal-caller Brandon Mitchell, who has missed the last five games with injury, has completed all three of his passes this season.
Welcome back, Brandon.

NC State gets a familiar face under center this Saturday when it heads to Doak Campbell Stadium, as Mitchell will return after a five-game absence caused by a broken bone in his left foot. Recreating familiar scenes against Florida State may be a whole 'nother matter in light of the Seminoles' national statement against the Tigers this past weekend.

"We've got to go down there and play clean and play hard and take a shot at them and keep taking shots at them and hope that we can get a few takeaways and good field position and play well on special teams," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said during his weekly press conference. "If they don't play well, that'd be great. But I'm anticipating a great Florida State team. That's what we've seen from every game that we've got on tape, is them dominating people. We know we've got to play well.

"The good things is our players have played against them and played well against them, so we know if we do things right we have a chance of winning this football game."

The narrative was similar going into last season's contest in Raleigh, N.C., before then-No. 3 Florida State stumbled in the second half, blowing a 16-0 lead and falling 17-16 to see national title hopes go up in flames with half of a season left to play. The Wolfpack have beaten the last four ranked Seminoles teams they have faced, though only the first of those games, in 2005, was in Tallahassee, Fla.

"I think from last year we learned that if we play to our potential we can play up there with the top teams in the country," offensive lineman Joe Thuney said. "We remember it and I'm sure they do, too. But it is a new year this year and we've just got to focus on taking this game and just giving it our all."

NC State finished just 3-3 after topping Florida State last season, leading to coach Tom O'Brien's firing.

After a 3-1 start this season that included a noble effort against Clemson, the Wolfpack have dropped two in a row and find themselves in an 0-3 hole in ACC play, with the offense averaging just 12.3 points per league contest under quarterback Pete Thomas.

They know the challenge that awaits this weekend against a team ranked No. 2 in the initial BCS standings.

"They capitalize on every opportunity that they have," receiver Bryan Underwood said. "The first play of the game (Clemson) turned it over, the offense came on the field and a couple plays later they scored. They forced a bunch of three-and-outs, they were attacking the players and the quarterback and disrupting a lot of routes, made Tajh Boyd uncomfortable in the pocket. So what I learned from them is they played very, very fast like they always do. They're going to come out ready to go no matter if it's home or away."

Underwood was on the receiving end of the memorable fourth-and-goal play last season, catching a game-winning two-yard pass from Mike Glennon with 16 seconds left to clinch the upset.

The redshirt junior will have a new quarterback looking for him this time around with Mitchell making his return.

Mitchell was a perfect 3-for-3 for 93 yards and a touchdown and tallied 19 yards on five rushes before leaving his Wolfpack debut in the first quarter of a Week 1 win over Louisiana Tech. The redshirt senior and Arkansas transfer dressed for NC State's last contest against Syracuse but opted to let a bye week handle the final phase of his recovery.

"That's been the hardest part," Mitchell said of being so close to a return. "I could've played, but if I got out there I wouldn't have been myself, and me not being able to play to my highest ability wouldn't do any good for the team. I didn't want to go out there and put the team in jeopardy as far as the game or then also putting myself in jeopardy for the rest of the season."

Midseason report: NC State

October, 15, 2013
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NC State may very well have been a close call away from possibly upsetting Clemson in its ACC opener. It came back and routed Central Michigan to get to 3-1, and things looked bright for first-year coach Dave Doeren and his squad with a favorable schedule awaiting it. Instead, the Wolfpack dropped games at Wake Forest and against Syracuse. They enter a bye, and the midway point of their season, at 3-3 overall but 0-3 in ACC play, and Florida State is awaiting them Oct. 26 in Tallahassee.

Many winnable games are left on the schedule, so the postseason does not appear to be in jeopardy. But the Wolfpack could certainly use a boost offensively, one they are likely to receive next time out from quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who was on the brink of a return from a broken bone in his left foot this past Saturday but ultimately sat out against the Orange.

Pete Thomas, who replaced Mitchell in Week 1 and has started since, has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,314 yards with three touchdowns and eight picks. NC State has averaged just 12.3 points in its three conference games, and its 24.7 points per game on the season has the Pack ranked 91st nationally in that department.

The Wolfpack have gotten help from the run game, which has been solid but not great, and the defense has allowed just 21.2 points per contest, 28th nationally.

The opportunities are there for Doeren and the Pack to have a successful Year 1 together, and perhaps a bye week is coming at the perfect time. But they need to get better and take care of business down the stretch against a lineup that features the likes of struggling North Carolina and nonconference foe East Carolina.

Offensive MVP: Joe Thuney, OG/OT. Talk about versatility: The right guard filled in at right tackle in the opener in place of Tyson Chandler, replaced an injured Rob Crisp at left tackle in the Clemson game and, last year, was the No. 2 center. He has played every offensive line position but left guard so far for the Wolfpack, proving to be an invaluable piece to the unit.

Defensive MVP: Art Norman, DE. The redshirt junior has been a force, tallying a team-best three sacks and six tackles for loss while generating three quarterback hurries. He also has a forced fumble and has a fumble recovery.

ACC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
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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.

Q&A: NC State WR Bryan Underwood

October, 4, 2013
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NC State receiver Bryan Underwood might be best recognized for the touchdown he didn’t score. With his team trailing 13-7 midway through the third quarter against No. 3-ranked Clemson, Underwood sprinted 83 yards into the end zone, where one official signaled a touchdown. Another official whistled the play dead, though, because he thought Underwood stepped out of bounds.

Even without that touchdown, Underwood has still had an important role in NC State’s offense. He was the Pack’s leading rusher against Clemson, and he currently ranks fourth on the team in rushing and third in receptions. He’s averaging 75 all-purpose yards per game.

I spoke with Underwood this week to get his take on where the program stands under first-year coach Dave Doeren heading into Saturday’s game at Wake Forest:

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIBryan Underwood said the Wolfpack need to be more consistent if they want to contend in the Atlantic Division.
Have you guys exceeded your expectations so far?

Bryan Underwood: So far we have. We started off a little slow in a couple of games but we’ve made a lot of adjustments on certain game plans. Whatever we had in the summer or a previous game, we may throw that out and come out with something new. Our intention is to execute whatever game plan we have for that week, for that following opponent, and so far I feel like we’ve been able to do it.

Since I have had the chance to talk to you, I have to ask you how much that touchdown run against Clemson is still bugging you?

BU: (He laughed) Like I tell everybody, it’s not really bothering me. The refs made their own calls. I wasn’t really paying attention to the sideline, I was just trying to get into the end zone. You can only move forward.

Knowing you came so close against Clemson, what do you think you guys are capable of in the Atlantic Division race?

BU: We’re taking every game one by one, but we have high expectations for ourselves. We take every day seriously, even days we’re not supposed to be in the stadium. We just meet up as an offense to have a little bit of a walk-through, brush up on certain routes and defensive coverages. We hold everyone accountable and hold high expectations for ourselves and we put so much work in, we don’t expect anything less than our best, and so do our coaches.

Tell me your perspective on the quarterback situation. From what I understand Brandon Mitchell should be coming back here in the near future, but Pete Thomas has also started playing better. What’s your scouting report on those guys and that situation as a whole?

BU: I check on Brandon every day, every time I walk into the stadium, [to] see if he’s doing OK. He has the same face on every day, smilin’, saying don’t worry about it, he’s coming back as fast as he can. He’s working hard. Pete is progressing his game and it shows on the field. He’s getting a lot more comfortable in the pocket, he’s reading defenses and learning what type of plays to call and where his reads should be. As far as Brandon and Pete when Brandon comes back, I feel like they’re probably going to end up using both. I don’t think the coaches are going to completely choose one guy because we have a lot of weapons. We’re still going to use the freshman quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and he’s going to add some more to our arsenal. Like I keep telling everybody, you can’t focus on one guy. If you do, you’re going to be in trouble because we have so many weapons.

What’s your take on Wake Forest based on what you’ve seen from them? Clearly the Demon Deacons have been struggling.

BU: We’re going to approach the game just like it’s any game, whether it’s Clemson or Alabama. They may have struggled in the beginning, but from what I’ve seen of them, they have a really athletic defense. Their noseguard, Nikita Whitlock, they have a really good secondary, they’re athletic, pretty decent speed. They’re veterans. They’ve seen a lot of things, been on a big stage before, they bounce back from bad games to having a good game. We’re going to get a good game plan ready for this week and see what we can do.

What do you think of the job Dave Doeren has done there so far?

BU: He’s exceeded all of my expectations. He’s just like my old high school coach. He came in, he had a game plan, he got everybody on board. He’s energetic. He’s in your life. There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t have enough energy for the whole entire team. He’s done good with coaching for the games, getting us prepared, getting our bodies right, the personnel they have for offense and defense. They’ve just done such a phenomenal job. I’m glad to be a part of it.

What are some things you feel you guys need to work on in order to really be a contender in the Atlantic Division?

BU: Being more consistent. Even in practice it shows, where we may have a decent practice Monday or Tuesday and come back Wednesday and have a bad practice. I would say we have to be more consistent. We have to keep focused on what we’ve been coached all week and execute in the game like we do in practice.

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