ACC: Sean Maguire

Play that changed the ACC race

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:30
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It was the scene every Florida State fan feared. Sean Maguire, still in the game in the fourth quarter because of a second suspension handed down to Jameis Winston less than a day before the game, was walking off the field having seemingly cost the Seminoles a chance at consecutive national titles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the numbers: Going deep in ACC

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
4:00
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It’s been a stellar start to the season for Jacoby Brissett, but there’s one little nagging problem in his performance that he knows must be fixed if NC State wants to upend top-ranked Florida State on Saturday: The deep ball.

The Wolfpack lead the ACC in total offense (502 yards per game), passing touchdowns (10) and completion percentage (67.7 percent), but those big plays downfield have been somewhat tough to come by.

“We’re not playing conservative; we’re taking our shots,” Brissett said. But those shots haven’t worked out quite as he’d hoped.

So far this season, on throws of 20 yards or longer, Brissett is just 5-of-15.

The good news is that the five he’s completed have accounted for 200 yards of offense, and of the 10 that didn’t connect, none were picked off. It's also a big improvement over last season, when NC State QBs connected on just 20 percent of their deep balls with three TDs and seven interceptions.

The bad news, coach Dave Doeren said, is that those throws should have added up to so much more.

“We’re still dropping a couple balls we should catch,” Doeren said. “We dropped four deep balls that could’ve been touchdowns.”

Of course, Brissett hasn’t been perfect on his throws, either.

“A lot of the overthrows were my fault,” he said. “I was just a little too happy they were that wide open.”

Saturday figures to offer fewer opportunities for receivers to be running wide open downfield against FSU’s stellar secondary, but Brissett also knows his offense will need to take its shots when possible if it wants to match the Seminoles’ firepower. A few big plays can swing a ballgame.

“Just give them a shot,” he said. “It’s hit or miss. It’s a long throw, but once you hit one, it’ll loosen the defense up. When they’re playing tight, take that shot.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett is trying to complete deep passes, with limited success.
And that got us to thinking about those big plays. Has NC State’s offense really been so bad on deep balls? And who’s doing it better?

The answer to the first question is that the Wolfpack have performed to almost exactly the league average on deep throws. Brissett has looked deep (20 yards or more downfield) on 12.6 percent of his throws — exactly the league average for ACC QBs. He’s completed one-third of them, just a tick below the ACC median. He’s averaging 13.6 yards per attempt on those throws -- again, right in the middle of the league (13.6).

But, of course, to beat Florida State, the league average rarely cuts it. NC State needs to be exceptional.

Last year, that was the territory marked by Jameis Winston and the Seminoles. Winston led all ACC quarterbacks with 40 completions and tied for the lead with 16 touchdowns on throws of 20 yards or longer. His 98.6 QBR on such throws trailed only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Winston looked deep on 21 percent of his attempts.

This year, however, that’s changed — at least through the two games Winston has played. The FSU quarterback has attempted passes of 20-plus yards on 10.4 percent of his throws (14th among ACC QBs) and has yet to complete one for a touchdown. Overall, Florida State’s two starting quarterbacks (Winston and Sean Maguire) have completed 6-of-12 deep balls for 306 yards, which look like solid numbers, but -- noticeably -- three-quarters of those passes have gone to Rashad Greene. The biggest difference for FSU this season is that the Seminoles have yet to find another receiver who is really stretching the field.

Greene’s eight deep targets are tied for the league lead with Louisville’s James Quick, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd and Georgia Tech’s DeAndre Smelter. Greene's four receptions on those throws is matched only by Miami’s Phillip Dorsett.

The deep ball for the Hurricanes has actually been an interesting discussion. With freshman Brad Kaaya struggling on such throws early in the season, defenses have been happy to stack the box and slow down Duke Johnson. Kaaya has attempted just 13 throws of 20-plus yards so far (13th in the ACC), down drastically from a year ago, when Stephen Morris was third in the league in deep balls. With Dorsett and Stacy Coley as weapons, it seems reasonable that James Coley will need to take the training wheels off for Kaaya sooner than later.

No quarterback in the conference has looked deep more often than Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, but that’s no surprise. Tech’s option offense lures defenders to the line of scrimmage, and Thomas has taken advantage by looking deep 19 times and connecting for three touchdowns.

What is perhaps a bit more surprising is the next two names on the list: Mitch Trubisky at North Carolina (seven deep balls out of 34 passes) and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (eight deep balls on 41 attempts).

Trubisky has struggled on his deep throws, completing just one of seven. Watson, on the other hand, has been exceptional. The true freshman has connected on 6 of 8 deep balls, including 2 of 3 for 67 yards last week against Florida State. Is it any wonder the Tigers have turned to him over Cole Stoudt (3-of-12 on deep throws) to run Chad Morris’ offense? Watson is also one of just three ACC QBs (along with Winston and Kaaya) to complete more than half their deep balls.

On the other end of the spectrum, no ACC quarterback has looked deep less often than Wake Forest’s John Wolford (6.2 percent of his throws) and none have balanced the risk-reward worse than Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer, who is averaging a league-low 27.8 yards-per-completion on deep throws, with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

Of course, it’s also still awfully early, and small sample sizes often yield strange results. But as Brissett takes aim at the nation’s top team Saturday, NC State is clearly not the only offense wondering how deep balls fits into their arsenal.

By the numbers: Week 4 recap

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
2:00
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Plenty of coaches around the ACC are sifting through some ugly numbers this week, but we’ll start with one of the best performances of the weekend.

* Florida State’s Rashad Greene was a hero yet again Saturday night. His 74-yard touchdown grab with 6:04 to play tied the game at 17 and gave the Seminoles a chance to win in overtime.

The big catches are nothing new for Greene. In fact, you could argue that he’s been on the receiving end of the most significant throws in the college career of four different quarterbacks:

2014: Sean Maguire, 74-yard touchdown to tie game versus Clemson

2013: Jameis Winston, 49-yard completion with less than a minute to play to set up a game-winning touchdown in the BCS national championship

2012: EJ Manuel, 39-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left to beat Virginia Tech, keeping FSU’s hopes alive for Jimbo Fisher’s first ACC championship

2011: Clint Trickett, 56-yard touchdown with 9:32 left to tie Oklahoma

The last one occurred in a game FSU eventually lost, but it’s a play many Noles fans recall as the loudest Doak Campbell Stadium has ever been.

Beyond Greene’s contributions historically though, he’s on an immensely hot streak right now. In his last three games against Power 5 teams, he has 29 catches for 485 yards and two touchdowns. Nineteen of those 29 receptions have gone for first downs.

Currently Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the only receiver in the nation with a longer active streak of 100-yard games against Power 5 teams.

* Georgia Tech is 4-0, and a big reason for that success thus far has been quarterback Justin Thomas, who ranks 10th in ESPN’s Total QBR so far this season. The presumption is the Yellow Jackets are finally embracing the passing game, and therefore the offense is more dynamic.

But that’s not entirely true. Georgia Tech has had the QB drop back to pass on 27 percent of its plays this year, which is just a mild uptick from 2013, when the QB dropped back on 26 percent of its plays.

What’s different is the success Thomas has enjoyed on those dropbacks. Tech is averaging more yards per dropback, been sacked less often and those plays are accounting for a greater percentage of its total offense than it did a year ago with Vad Lee at quarterback.

* While Thomas has been sharp as a passer, DeAndre Smelter is blossoming into a star as a receiver. The former baseball player has three 100-yard games already this season (only Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White have more) and only Cooper, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd and Air Force’s Jalen Robinette have been responsible for a higher percentage of their team’s targets than Smelter (40.3 percent).

* Yes, Boston College’s game Saturday was only against Maine, but here’s a ridiculous stat for you: The Eagles rushed for 413 yards, while only allowing 16 yards on the ground.

More ridiculous: A week earlier, against USC, Boston College ran for 452 yards and allowed just 20.

In the past 10 seasons, there were just eight other examples of a team rushing for more than 400 while allowing 20 or fewer yards on the ground in a game, and BC managed to do it in back-to-back weeks.

* Panic time for some other ground games around the ACC?

Virginia Tech’s rushing game was bad last year and is again in 2014. Overall, the Hokies rank 10th in the ACC in yards-per-carry on non-QB rushes (4.29) and their running backs are averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry against FBS teams.

North Carolina and Virginia (with 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks) are 12th and 13th, respectively, in non-QB yards-per-rush.

Clemson is 11th (4.02), and even with FSU’s best defensive lineman, Mario Edwards Jr., out for much of the game Saturday, the Tigers mustered just 3.2 yards-per-carry. Take away the Clemson QBs, and the ground game had just 47 yards.

Then there’s Louisville. Two weeks ago at Virginia, the Cards’ ground game averaged fewer than 4 yards per rush, and on Saturday against FIU, things were even worse. Set aside Dominique Brown’s 18-yard scamper on the first play of the game, and Louisville had just 34 yards on its final 30 attempts.

* Virginia Tech’s once-stifling defense has really struggled so far this year. Part of it is the game plan Bud Foster has implemented, but the big plays have killed the Hokies. In four games, Tech has coughed up 32 plays of 19 yards or more (once every eight plays). Last year, it allowed just 53 all season.

* Plenty of credit for Georgia Tech’s win should go to Ted Roof’s defense, which rattled Michael Brewer into three turnovers that translated to 17 points. So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have racked up 45 points following turnovers, tops in the ACC.

* And finally, here’s a number that pretty much sums up Clemson’s season so far: In two games against FBS teams, Clemson is averaging 2.37 yards-per-play in the fourth quarter and overtime (fourth-worst nationally) and has picked up just three first downs (worst in the nation).

ACC morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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No surprise, but Dabo Swinney made it official Sunday: Deshaun Watson will start at quarterback for Clemson, writes The Post and Courier.

Clemson fans obviously wish that decision had come a few days earlier, but it’s hard to fault Swinney for showing loyalty to his veteran, Cole Stoudt, for as long as he could. Besides, most true freshmen would’ve been rattled by the big stage in Tallahassee on Saturday. It’s just that Watson isn’t like most freshmen, and that’s why this was an easy decision moving forward.

Four weeks into the season, Watson is the fourth backup QB in the ACC to see signifiant action, and he’s clearly been the best. Watson leads all ACC quarterbacks in Total QBR and is sixth nationally.

The true freshman has only been on campus since January and he missed the latter half of spring ball with an injury, but as we wrote last week, he's a quick study and Chad Morris' offense is second nature already.

Watson might be licking his chops for his first career start, which will come this week against a reeling North Carolina team that just coughed up 789 yards of offense to ECU and ranks 125th nationally in passing defense. It’s so bad for the Tar Heels that Larry Fedora admitted he needs to re-evaluate how he’s doing his job, writes the Charlotte Observer.

Of course, as Fedora tries to right the ship in Chapel Hill, it’s possible he could turn to his backup QB, too. Starter Marquise Williams struggled against ECU, completing 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards (just 5.1 per attempt) and tossed a disastrous interception that was returned for a TD. Two early scoring drives led by Williams were actually finished by TD throws from a wide receiver and punter, respectively.

Mitch Trubisky wasn’t markedly better, completing 8 of 16 throws for 103 yards and a touchdown, but it’s fair to wonder if UNC fans will start clamoring for the highly recruited freshman to start over the veteran QB soon, too, just as Clemson’s fans did.

Sean Maguire largely held his own in his first start for Florida State, and it was a wild ride for his family, writes Warchant. But he’s headed back to the bench as Jimbo Fisher made clear that Jameis Winston will be the starter again, effective today.

Then at Virginia, the Hoos remain optimistic despite a third straight 2-2 start, writes The Daily Progress. But questions still linger at QB, after Matt Johns finished things off for Virginia against BYU following an injury to starter Greyson Lambert. Lambert says he'll be back this week, but Johns has the better numbers through four games.

But if there’s QB drama in those places, there is none in Clemson, where Watson is clearly the future.

“Turn his tape on, watch him play and the moment was never too big for him, even as a freshman playing varsity,” Morris told me last week. And that was before Watson looked like a savvy veteran in raucous Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Tigers are 1-2, and for the third straight year, it looks like winning the ACC won’t happen. But after Clemson fans licked their wounds Sunday, they should certainly feel good about the future with their new QB.

A few more links:
  • There’s no doubt Winston was missed Saturday, but Florida State showed its depth in the win over Clemson, writes Sports Illustrated.
  • It was a lot of little things that let Florida State squash Clemson, writes Tomahawk Nation. Of note on those little things: Clemson was 2-of-5 converting third-and-short against the Seminoles.
  • This headline from the Washington Post certainly summed up Clemson's performance Saturday succinctly.
  • Michael Brewer took the blame after Virginia Tech’s loss to Georgia Tech, writes The Roanoke Times. No Power 5 QB in the country has thrown more interceptions this season than Brewer (eight).
  • There are plenty of numbers for Boston College to be happy about after four games, but BC Interruption points out a couple sobering stats: The Eagles didn’t force a turnover against Maine and currently rank 104th nationally with a minus-3 turnover margin. BC has just three points off turnovers this year, too. Only six FBS teams have less.
  • Another year, another long list of complaints about Miami’s defense, writes The Sun-Sentinel. Is there anyone in the ACC whose job seems less secure right now than Mark D’Onofrio? Since he came aboard in 2011, only Duke has allowed more yards per game to Power 5 teams than Miami (446.2) and no ACC team has allowed a higher percentage of third-down conversions (46.1).
  • James Quick’s breakout game against FIU was worth the wait for Louisville, writes The Courier-Journal.
Jimbo Fisher rubbed the head of his backup quarterback, who was burdened with the responsibility of preserving No. 1 Florida State’s College Football Playoff hopes while the rest of his team was embroiled in controversy. Fisher then moved on to hug Jesus Wilson, a receiver who was suspended for the season opener.

The fifth-year coach then turned to his team and his players as they took a knee around him in the locker room. He stood there, sizing up a room of 105 players that battled to a 23-17 overtime win against No. 22 Clemson without its best player for an entire game and best defensive player for the final half. He rubbed his eyes.

“Let 'em flow, Coach!”

“Let it out, Coach, let it out!”

“Don’t cry, Coach!”

If the pregame video of Jameis Winston prepping his team before last season’s Clemson game was for the cameras, the 2014 post-game version was unadulterated emotion.

 

Florida State great LeRoy Butler, who spoke to fans before the game about the legendary Puntrooskie play against Clemson, filmed the locker room scene in a series of videos he posted to his YouTube page.

“How good it is to come to work and work with people like you,” a vulnerable Fisher told his team in the video. “God, I’m a lucky man. Let me tell you that right now. I’m a lucky man.”

The Seminoles dealt with distractions through much of the week after Winston jumped on a table in the middle of Florida State’s campus and yelled a profane and sexually explicit statement. He was suspended Wednesday for the first half. Fill-in starter Sean Maguire said the team initially viewed it as a distraction before moving on.

Then Winston was suspended for the entire game late Friday night, and the headlines and distractions recycled.

In the first half, the Seminoles played like a team that looked distracted, but the defense kept Florida State in the game until Maguire launched a game-tying 74-yard pass with 6:04 left. In overtime, after a fourth-down stop by the Seminoles’ defense, the rushing game found new life as Karlos Williams rushed for the final 25 yards and game-winning touchdown.

“Each person, we have flaws, but I’ll tell you that’s what a family does -- love and trusts and believes in each other, that plays until the end. I don’t have words for you,” Fisher said.

Assistant coach Sal Sunseri addresses the team in the next video and gives the game ball to Fisher.

 

In the final video, Fisher is mobbed by his team.

 
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The spotlight was going to be on Jameis Winston regardless. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, engulfed in controversy for the better part of a year, was suspended for the full game less than 24 hours before No. 1 Florida State's matchup with No. 22 Clemson.

As the game approached, though, the attention was supposed to turn to redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire, the other quarterback -- the starting quarterback, if only for three hours.

Except Winston invited the cameras and microscope with his pregame antics, appearing from the locker room in full pads and taking practice snaps with the rest of the quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAfter a rocky first half, Florida State backup quarterback Sean Maguire came through with some big second-half throws to help defeat Clemson.
It was supposed to be Maguire’s moment, and it was being taken away from him before he even took the first snap. The latest distraction was another viral video relapse, creating another issue that ate at the Seminoles’ focus.

Then it carried over into the game. The spotlight was not on the Seminoles until the ball was finally kicked off at 8:23, but for the first 30 minutes the team played like it was a secondary story: Breakdowns on the offensive line, a negative rushing total and a defense that allowed 249 first-half yards to Clemson.

For the most loyal Winston supporter, this was the perfect scenario as late as Friday evening. The offense was sputtering and in need of a spark as it entered halftime trailing 10-3. But now Winston was relegated to the bench for the second half, too, and it was time for Maguire to earn the spotlight he hadn't received since being named the starter Wednesday.

So Jimbo Fisher was left with Maguire, and if the Seminoles were going to win, he was going to have to take them there. He did, tossing a 74-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene with 6:04 left to tie the game, which Florida State eventually won 23-17 in overtime.

“I felt a lot of pressure was on him,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “… We put him in bad situations, but he pulled out the win.”

Maguire learned he'd play the entire game not long before he went to sleep Friday. There weren't any dreams of big touchdown passes or improbable overtime wins. But he lived it Saturday.

“I can’t put into words,” Maguire said. “It’s the greatest feeling in my life so far that’s for sure.”

Maguire played nervous early while teammates played distracted. In the first half, Maguire played like a quarterback who only saw the field in mop-up duty previously, completing only 6 of 17 passes in the first half.

In the second half, Fisher took the training wheels off. There were shotgun and first-down passes and no-huddle offenses to start the second half. The game was going to be in Maguire’s hands, which most honest Florida State fans did not trust leading into the game.

In the second half, he was 15-of-22 passing and finished with 305 yards.

“We got him in a rhythm and got him some confidence,” Fisher said.

Would Maguire have been confident enough to throw that deep fourth-quarter pass to Greene in the first quarter?

“Probably not,” Fisher said. “And it comes after he takes a sack he shouldn’t have taken. But that’s what I loved about him tonight -- he just kept playing the next play, and that takes a lot for a first-time starter.”

The narrative nearly turned for Maguire in the final three minutes of the game. Maguire took a chance over the middle and threw an interception. Clemson had the ball at the Seminoles’ 26-yard line and was killing the clock to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.

That is when Maguire’s teammates secured the backup quarterback’s moment in the spotlight, no matter how fleeting it was destined to be, by forcing a fumble.

“Oh my God, we got the ball back,” Maguire said.

And Maguire finally got his limelight.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With two minutes to go in regulation Saturday night, the end seemed near -- for both the ACC and Florida State.

Jameis Winston stood in track pants on the sideline, his suspension threatening to shred national championship hopes. His backup, Sean Maguire, had just thrown a bad pass that Clemson safety Jadar Johnson easily intercepted, putting the Tigers in prime position to win.

On second-and-2 from the Florida State 18, C.J. Davidson took the ball. All the Tigers had to do was get a few more yards to set up for a game-winning field goal. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman converged, and got his hand on the ball. It squirted out.

Hearts sank on the Clemson sideline. The nation had seen Clemson fumble opportunities before, mistakes that have turned its school name into a verb that has come to symbolize what it means to give away games.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire and No. 1 Florida State overcame early struggles to rally past No. 22 Clemson on Saturday.
But this fumbled opportunity became a golden gift for the Seminoles, and, in turn, the ACC. Momentum shifted in an instant. There was no way Florida State would lose this game now, not with its suddenly rejuvenated defense leading the way. Overtime arrived, and the Seminoles’ defense made another huge play, stopping Clemson on fourth-and-short.

All that was left was victory. Karlos Williams, ineffective all night, knew what he had to do. He would not let his teammates down. His 12-yard touchdown run gave No. 1 Florida State a 23-17 win, preserving its championship hopes and saving face for the ACC.

“It just shows we have great players on this football team besides Jameis Winston,” Williams said. “Although he's our captain, he's our leader, he's the best player in college football, we showed tonight we also have great players on this football team -- Rashad Greene, Bobo Wilson. Sean Maguire is a great quarterback. I believe that we proved we're Florida State and we're on the right track.”

With all due respect to Clemson, the ACC needed Florida State to pull out the win. Saturday was the worst weekend of the year for the ACC, as the league went 3-5 in nonconference play against FBS opponents, including an ugly 0-3 against the Big Ten.

Had Clemson won, the ACC would have gone from front-runner to outsider praying for a shot in the College Football Playoff.

Watching Florida State win the national title last year helped get the ACC some major respect. Watching Florida State go down at home in September to a team it has owned the past two seasons would not make a compelling case for inclusion. While it is true a one-loss Florida State team may not have been completely eliminated from contention, the ACC strength of schedule is simply not going to hold up this season against the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Not with the Week 4 results as an example.

So to guarantee staying alive for another week, Florida State had to win. It looked bleak in the early going, with the Clemson defensive line dominating and Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson taking a star turn of his own.

While Clemson played better for large parts of the game, it left points all over the field -- unacceptable for a team with its own championship hopes. Cole Stoudt, who started the game at quarterback, missed a shot at a sure touchdown in the first quarter when he threw the ball at his receiver’s feet. Clemson missed a field goal.

In the third quarter, Clemson had first-and-goal on the 1. A bad snap sailed over Watson’s head on second down. Clemson ended up missing another field goal. All the while Maguire started playing better, and so did his offensive line. It helped that Greene and Nick O’Leary were more involved, a big reason why the Noles stayed in the game.

But the biggest play of all belonged to Goldman, who matter-of-factly described his crucial forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.

“I knew it came loose,” he said. “When you're in the heat of the moment, you're not really thinking.”

Was there ever a moment of doubt when his teammates took the field, with the clock winding down and Clemson in prime position to win the game?

“You can't think of losing,” Goldman said. “One thing that Jimbo Fisher tells us is that you're never out of the fight until it's over. That's the mentality.”

Winston will be back at practice Monday. He will be under center next Saturday, when Florida State continues its playoff quest at NC State. The Seminoles proved they can win with Winston, and they can win without Winston.

Now they need to prove they can keep on winning. Because once again, the Noles are left alone carrying the banner for themselves.

And the banner for the ACC.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:54
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Well, that was a bad Saturday for the ACC. Bad losses, high-profile suspensions, a Group of 5 team hanging 70 on a supposed Coastal contender. Yeah, it might be another long year in the ACC, but the rough day did offer a few lessons.

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesFlorida State QB Sean Maguire had a gutty performance, but the Seminoles' offense missed Jameis Winston on Saturday.
 Clemson found its QB, and the Seminoles didn’t need theirs. Two things should be mentioned here that weren’t necessarily reflected in the final score of Florida State's win over Clemson. First, if Jameis Winston had played, there’s a good chance all the late drama wouldn’t have been necessary. While Sean Maguire certainly showed guts to stay in there and atone for some mistakes, FSU’s struggles on offense also showed just how much Winston brings to the table. At the same time, while the Seminoles survived, Clemson outplayed them at virtually every turn, but coming up empty in three trips to the red zone makes it tough to win. But the good news for both teams is that they’ll have much better QB situations moving forward. Winston will return, and FSU’s title hopes remain. Clemson’s season won’t end with a playoff berth, but Deshaun Watson’s emergence means there’s still a lot for Tigers fans to be excited about.

The ACC didn’t have bragging rights for long. Remember when the Big Ten was a laughingstock and the ACC was comfortably in the No. 4 spot in the conference power rankings? Well, that didn’t last long. The ACC went 0-3 against the upstart Big Ten on Saturday, including home losses by Pitt (to Iowa) and Syracuse (to Maryland). The Pitt loss is particularly galling, as the Panthers were on the brink of hitting the Top 25 and might have established themselves as a Coastal favorite with a win. Now? It’s tough to see a team that’s going to gain any national respect in this conference beyond FSU.

North Carolina isn’t a contender. The Tar Heels rolled over for ECU a year ago in an ugly loss. They saw the Pirates upset Virginia Tech last week. They had an extra week to prepare for Shane Carden and Co. before Saturday’s showdown. The result? A brutal 70-41 loss that offered a long, long list of embarrassments. The 789 yards of offense by ECU is the most against an ACC team in at least a decade, and the most any team has racked up so far this season. The 70 points is the most scored against an ACC team since Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2012. Carden’s 438 passing yards were the second most against UNC in the last decade. After three games, UNC hasn’t looked ready to stop anyone on defense, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the ACC slate to come. Up next? Clemson.

Jacoby Brissett took care of the little guys. No one will mistake NC State’s early-season schedule for a murderer’s row of talent, so it’s way too early to buy in on the Wolfpack’s ACC chances. But the bottom line is that they’re 4-0, need just two more wins to become bowl eligible, and a year after enduring chaos at the quarterback position, Brissett has appeared to have all the answers. Through four games, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws and has tossed 10 touchdowns with just one pick -- and that came early in the opener. He’s now thrown 108 straight passes without an interception. Of course, the task gets tougher in Week 5, when Florida State comes to town.

We were high on the wrong Tech. OK, it was tough to hype Georgia Tech too much. The Yellow Jackets have trailed in each of their four games thus far, and even against Virginia Tech on Saturday, they were outgained (424 to 375), had fewer first downs (24 to 19) and converted just 4-of-12 third downs. But the Georgia Tech D made plays when it had to, and the offense cashed in with 17 points off turnovers. So maybe instead of nitpicking the Jackets’ flaws thus far, we should’ve been noting how well they’d overcome them. Justin Thomas has Georgia Tech at 4-0, and with home dates against Miami and Duke, there’s a perfect opportunity for the Jackets to take command of the Coastal.

QBs of the future took a step forward. OK, so Miami lost, Clemson lost and Wake Forest barely escaped Army. That’s not ideal, but fans have to at least be excited about how the freshman QBs performed. We already mentioned Watson, who has immense talent, and Miami's Brad Kaaya looked markedly better than he did in his Week 1 performance against Louisville, and John Wolford continues to improve in spite of very little help from the rest of the Deacons’ offense. Overall, the three true freshmen combined to complete 69 percent of their throws, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, tossed five touchdowns and ran for a sixth while largely limiting any killer mistakes. On a brutal weekend in the ACC, the kids at least offered a reasonable silver lining.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
AM ET
The best day of the week is finally here. Is the best league game of the year here as well? Probably. Here's a primer on all of the action throughout the day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter with all of the hashtags below.

Noon

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #GTvsVT: The Yellow Jackets have gotten to 3-0 in the most wayward of fashions. The Hokies are coming off a home loss to East Carolina, one week after upsetting a top-10 Ohio State team on the road. Could their trouble be on defense? Brandon Facyson has been playing hurt all season, sure, but Virginia Tech has surrendered 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season, fourth-most in the nation and half its total from last season (44). The big-play threat might not exactly be there with Georgia Tech, but as Jared Shanker noted this week, the visitors do bring with them a knack for converting third downs. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in this matchup.

Iowa at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #IOWAvsPITT: Third-year Panthers coach Paul Chryst hosts a familiar foe this weekend, as he faced the Hawkeyes six times while he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, going 3-3. Pitt is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2000, and it will likely turn to the nation's leading rusher, James Conner, to try to get there, despite Iowa's stingy run defense (No. 7 nationally). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, by the way, will experience a homecoming of sorts, as he went to Upper St. Clair High in Pittsburgh.

12:30 p.m.

Maryland at Syracuse, 12:30, ESPN3, #MDvsCUSE: The Terrapins are in their first year away from the "basketball" conference that is the ACC, as coach Randy Edsall said this summer, and the Big Ten newcomers will look to avenge last year's 20-3 home loss to the Orange, which came without receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Syracuse, meanwhile, looked like a new team in last week's 40-3 win at Central Michigan, as it came off a bye and had quarterback Terrel Hunt back running the show on offense. Syracuse is looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which would provide a big boost to a team that will embark on a difficult three-week stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.

Tulane at Duke, ESPN3, #TULNvsDUKE: Has there been a more overlooked team than Duke recently? All the Blue Devils have done is take care of business, coming off a 10-win, division-title season and starting 3-0 this season in methodical fashion (albeit against bad competition). In any event, the unranked Blue Devils close their nonconference slate against American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulane, which is no stranger to the ACC this season, having lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Here's one interesting stat surrounding Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: The Blue Devils have lost yardage on just three percent of Boone's snaps, the lowest percentage of any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy and Boston College hope to avoid a letdown after their upset of USC when they face FCS Maine on Saturday.
1 p.m.

Maine at Boston College, ESPN3, #MEvsBC: It's all about avoiding a letdown this week in Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles produced one of the young season's greatest upsets last weekend against USC. The Black Bears should hardly pose a huge challenge to BC, which, with Tyler Murphy under center, has been able to stretch the field much more than last season, even if the run game is still its bread and butter. Murphy leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 401, 40 more yards than he has tallied passing the ball (361).

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at FIU, Fox Sports 1: The Cardinals are looking to rebound from their first defeat of the second Bobby Petrino era, while the Golden Panthers welcome their second straight ACC foe to Miami. FIU gave Pitt a handful last week before the Panthers pulled away, but Louisville will probably not be so kind coming off the loss at Virginia. Louisville beat FIU 72-0 a year ago, and while there are plenty of new faces, quarterback Will Gardner will try to bounce back after getting pulled a week ago. His offensive line will look to get its act together as well.

Virginia at No. 21 BYU, ESPN, #UVAvsBYU: Speaking of the Cavaliers, they should serve as one of the toughest tests the Cougars face all season, as the home team has the best chance of anyone in the nation at running the regular-season table (21.7 percent, per ESPN's FPI). We'll see just how good this Virginia defense really is after strong showings through the first three weeks, as BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and his home field will be a handful to handle. Virginia beat BYU last year in the season opener, one of just two games it won all season.

Army at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #ARMYvsWAKE: The Demon Deacons' defense has actually been pretty good through three games despite a 1-2 record. And while the offense showed signs of life late in last week's loss at Utah State, it cannot afford to give away points, and it would help to develop some form of a ground game. The Black Knights were shut out last week at Stanford. They also boast, at this point, the nation's slowest offense at 31.1 seconds per play, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.

North Carolina at East Carolina, ESPNU, #UNCvsECU: The Pirates came awfully close to beating a South Carolina team that is probably better than we initially gave it credit for, and they went into Blacksburg, Virginia, last week and took down the Hokies. Now they get the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year's 55-31 ECU rout in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have looked underwhelming through two games, and they will be without starting guard Landon Turner. But their offense is still capable of putting plenty of points on the board, and this is a team that certainly has not forgotten about the way it was embarrassed by the Pirates last season. A shootout between Marquise Williams and Shane Carden could be on the horizon. And given UNC's upcoming slate -- at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame -- it better hope it can keep up this time around before league play starts. One thing to keep in mind: With Brian Walker's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at San Diego State, UNC now has 10 non-offensive touchdowns since last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is tied with North Texas for the second-best mark in the nation during that span, trailing only Florida State's 11.

6 p.m.

Presbyterian at NC State, ESPN3, #PREvsNCSU: The Wolfpack's laughable nonconference slate concludes, and a win here would make them 4-0 after a disappointing 3-9 mark last season. Still, it should do wonders for a young team looking to go bowling in Dave Doeren's second year at the helm, especially if it can replicate its dominant performance from last week at USF. Like its rival in Chapel Hill, NC State needs to do itself a favor, with back-to-back games against FSU and Clemson awaiting in the next two weeks to open conference play. As David Hale notes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been invaluable so far for the Pack, leading the ACC in touchdowns and yards and second only to Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas in passer rating.

8 p.m.

Miami at No. 24 Nebraska, ESPN2, #MIAvsNEB: Andrea Adelson and Mitch Sherman did a wonderful job recapping some of the great matchups between these old rivals. What might be the difference at Memorial Stadium, however, is the ground game. Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in each of his past five games dating back to last season, while Ameer Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of his past 14 games and has tallied more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The ACC is 6-3 against the Cornhuskers in the past nine meetings, though the Hurricanes are just 1-6 in their past seven games against AP-ranked teams, with an average point margin of minus-22.4.

8 p.m.

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, ABC, #CLEMvsFSU: Here's the matchup we've all been waiting for, but it won't include Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the entire game, the school announced late Friday, after reportedly making profane remarks in public. It will be Sean Maguire's turn to run the show. Maguire has not started a game since Nov. 12, 2011, his senior year at Seton Hall Prep (New Jersey). Coach Jimbo Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee, but the lower-ranked team has won two of the past three meetings. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 0-4 all time against AP No. 1 teams, with the last such game coming in the 1999 "Bowden Bowl I" against FSU, a 17-14 Seminoles win. Coming into this contest, ESPN's FPI ranks Clemson 19th, FSU 2nd, and it gives the Seminoles a 77 percent chance to win.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris are two of the best offensive minds in football. But they go about their business in very different ways. Fisher is a little more old-school by 2014 college football standards, while Morris subscribes to lightning speed and triple-digit play counts.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but just with all offensive philosophies, there are positives and negatives to both. Each coach offers insight into his offense on the eve of the ACC showdown between No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson. Jared Shanker spoke with Fisher about his "complex" model, which backup quarterback Sean Maguire will operate without restrictions, and David Hale talked with Morris about his "left lane" preference.

Fisher looks at championships and points, not plays
[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher thinks Florida State has an advantage when his pro-style Seminoles line up on offense.
Fisher was in his element at the Seminoles’ media day in August. He was talking Football 101, discussing X's and O's and, taking a page from public speaking handbooks, actively engaging his audience by moving across the dais.

Toward the end, he was asked about the latest trend in college football offenses. It’s no longer just spread offenses and no-huddle drives, but now coaches, including Saturday’s opposing offesive coordinator, have their eyes on running as many plays as possible with the intention of reaching 100.

“We scored the most points in NCAA history and didn’t go no huddle,” Fisher said in August. “And Alabama didn’t win a bunch of national championships with no huddle.”

The fifth-year Florida State coach wasn’t criticizing the up-tempo faction of coaches -- in 2014 that’s a losing battle as far as numbers go -- but pointing out that recent national champions, himself included, aren’t relying on any gimmicks offensively.

Florida State is No. 1 in the country again, and while Fisher said his teams are capable of exhibiting no-huddle and up-tempo concepts, why would he mess with a winning formula?

With the overhaul of offensive philosophies throughout the country -- five of the top-10 teams in the AP poll are spread, up-tempo or both -- Fisher said it is an advantage when his pro-style Seminoles line up on offense.

“Being able to play conventional plays into our hands because not many people are doing it,” Fisher said in August. “It used to be the teams that spread, you don’t know how to play it [on defense]. Now all teams are playing spread, it makes the team you’re playing, say they’re a 4-2-5 nickel defense, now they have regular people running with a 260-pound tight end, 240-pound fullback and take an iso or counter. How much time do they see it in practice and practice against it?”

Several players have referred to Fisher’s offense as “complex,” and Fisher himself said it’s “probably a little more NFL-laden” with multiple-line protections, formations and the freedom for the quarterback at the line of scrimmage to make checks between a run or pass.

“It’s been successful, and it develops guys for the league,” Fisher said. “You go to school to be a lawyer, you go to the best law school. You want to be an NFL player, you go to teams that run NFL systems. When our guys get [to the NFL] they say they’re very comfortable, the schemes and concepts are very similar.”

Morris not deviating from uptempo style
[+] EnlargeChad Morris
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsOC Chad Morris' fast-paced offense has proved to be a winning formula for Clemson.
When he met with reporters earlier this week, Morris was asked whether he might slow down his usually fast-paced offense to eat some clock and keep Florida State’s offense off the field. It was a reasonable plan, but it never crossed Morris’ mind.

In fact, if Morris has a regret this season, it’s that he hasn't been aggressive enough.

In the opening week of the season, Clemson was saddled with awful field position throughout a disastrous second half at Georgia. Morris decided to go conservative, hoping to avoid a bad mistake. It was the wrong move. The Tigers had seven second-half drives and punted seven times. A three-point game at the start of the fourth quarter ended as a 45-21 Georgia win.

“Obviously if I had to do it over, I’d have thrown three straight deep balls,” Morris said. “If I’d known we’d be three-and-out, I’d have made everybody in the stands go, ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh.’”

Most of the time, that’s exactly what Morris wants to do. In his three-plus seasons at the helm of Clemson’s offense, the fireworks have been routine, and the pace has been frenetic. Among Power 5 teams since 2011, Clemson has run the second-most plays and ranks seventh in touchdowns, sixth in passing yards and seventh in plays of 20 yards or more. Morris has been at the forefront of the fast-and-loose style that has turned offenses like Clemson, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oregon into the some of the most entertaining spectacles in college football.

Morris’ offensive philosophy stands in stark contrast to the man calling plays for Clemson’s opposition this week, and the contrasts in style between Morris’ game plan and Fisher’s makes for lively debate. In each of the past two seasons, Fisher’s pro style has won the day, and last year, it set scoring records and paved the way to a national title. Still, Morris doesn’t see the head-to-head showdown Saturday as a referendum on his approach.

“We’re going to do what we do,” Morris said. “You’re just trying to get your guys to play at a high level. And in games like this, your big-time players have to show up, and it’s our job as coordinators to put them in a position to be successful.”

And if putting players in position to succeed is the ultimate goal, it’s hard to argue with Morris’ up-tempo style. While Fisher’s playbook is mercilessly complex, the main goal of Morris' offense is simple -- to move fast and make quick decisions. That means paring down the decision-making to the most important details and then letting athletes go out and make plays.

Still, at the end of the day, Morris said the underpinnings of what he does aren't a whole lot different than Fisher’s philosophy.

“You try to find weaknesses and exploit them and do what you do good,” Morris said.

Of course, what Morris does best is to open up the throttle and let the offense test its limits.

“I’m used to putting it in the left lane and put the hammer down,” Morris said.

ACC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
We start today with Jameis Winston, because the reigning Heisman Trophy winner dominated conversation Wednesday, again for all the wrong reasons.

Florida State suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's primetime game against No. 22 Clemson. But is that enough? Our Mark Schlabach thinks the consequences could have a reverse effect if a certain scenario plays out.
Some might argue that Winston's punishment for the latest incident isn't severe enough. In fact, FSU officials might have set him up to return to the spotlight once again after getting a slight slap on the wrist. What if backup quarterback Sean Maguire, who has attempted only 26 passes in his college career, struggles against Clemson, only to have Winston come into the game after halftime and lead the Seminoles to another victory? Winston will be the hero once again.

Others have expressed similar sentiments, including USA Today's Dan Wolken. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, meanwhile, wonders if Winston has learned anything at all, especially in light of comments both the player and head coach Jimbo Fisher made this summer. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde also thinks Winston's half-game suspension is a half-measure taken by FSU.

SI.com's Zac Ellis says the message from the school to Winston to shape up is loud and clear.

How any of this affects the Noles in their chase to repeat as national champions remains unclear. But it is more evident than ever before that Winston needs to grow up, and grow up fast. Incident after incident figured to show him that, but it appears that has not been the case just yet. Now he has let down his teammates as they prepare for their biggest game of the season so far. How they respond -- and whether that will teach Winston a lesson -- remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the ACC …


A year ago, Jameis Winston marched his offense onto the field in Death Valley, cracked a few jokes in the huddle to lighten the mood, then proceeded to dismantle the Clemson defense for 60 minutes straight. He threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, and when the carnage had ended, Florida State was a legitimate contender for the national title and Winston was a national celebrity.

In the 11 months since, that spotlight has unraveled so much of the veneer Winston’s win over Clemson created, and now, just four days before the rematch, the scenario for Florida State and its star-crossed QB feels entirely different.

Sean Maguire will be the man leading Florida State’s offense onto the field this time around, thanks to a half-game suspension levied against Winston for his latest off-field troubles. The Seminoles will remain favorites to win, but Wednesday’s news means Florida State is hardly the safe bet it once seemed.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State is hoping that quarterback Sean Maguire will be a quick study this week.
Really, the questions began long before Winston stood atop a table in (or near) FSU’s student union and shouted obscenities that resonated around the country in a matter of moments, thanks to social media.

Winston’s offseason was a whirlwind of awards ceremonies and off-field scrutiny, and when the season began with a sluggish win over Oklahoma State, fans immediately began to wonder whether he was the same QB who’d looked so unflappable as a freshman.

Seminoles stars departed for the NFL, including Lamarcus Joyner, who forced the fumble that started the FSU avalanche in Death Valley last season, along with offensive stalwarts Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Devonta Freeman. Through the first two games of 2014, those absences were felt by Florida State, and the Seminoles were clearly searching for the right replacements to step up.

But even throughout all the turbulence since Jimbo Fisher hoisted the national championship trophy a year ago, Florida State remained the nation’s safest bet for the College Football Playoff, and Winston was the constant.

Now, for the first 30 minutes of a game that will likely decide the ACC Atlantic Division, nothing seems certain.

Make no mistake, Maguire is capable of handling the role. He’s spent two full seasons learning Fisher’s system. He spent three chaotic weeks in November 2013 as FSU’s top backup during a time when the courts held Winston’s future in limbo. Winston said Wednesday he'd be spending extra time watching film and studying the playbook with Maguire to get him ready for his first career start. Maguire is prepared for this moment, but all the preparation in the world won’t entirely close the gap in talent between the Heisman winner and the anonymous backup.

Clemson’s pass rush is as good as any in the nation, and Maguire’s calm under pressure will be tested. That was always Winston’s strength.

Karlos Williams is a talented runner who could help ease the transition for the backup QB, but look no further than the Week 1 game against Oklahoma State to find serious concerns about Florida State’s ground game. Without Winston, the Tigers will almost certainly stack the box and dare Maguire to beat them downfield.

And while Rashad Greene remains as consistently productive a player as there is in the conference, there were already nagging questions surrounding the receiving corps' supporting cast. Now the burden falls on Maguire to help inexperienced targets like Jesus Wilson, Kermit Whitfield and Ermon Lane develop on the fly.

It’s just 30 minutes of football, and the stage will be set for Winston to return to action in the second half and erase a few more demons on the field. But last year, those first 30 minutes meant everything, with the Seminoles jumping out to a 27-7 lead that never allowed Clemson to get out of the starting blocks.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney grabbed headlines afterward, suggesting the talent on the field was split evenly, but the early momentum of the game tipped the scales Florida State’s way. This time around, there will be no excuse for the Tigers to cede the game within the first few drives. If the talent really is evenly split, Winston’s loss tips the scales back in Swinney’s favor.

But a year ago, there were questions about Winston, too, when Florida State’s bus motored into Death Valley, and he emerged a conquering hero.

Don’t expect the first chapter of the legend of Sean Maguire to be written in Tallahassee on Saturday. But the backup to college football’s biggest star will have a chance to script one heck of a footnote in the story of the Seminoles' 2014 season.
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.
From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Quarterbacks

Best of the best: Florida State

As if there was any real debate with this position. The Seminoles clearly have the conference’s best, if not the country’s. Jameis Winston hasn't lost a game in his career and is coming off a record-setting season in which he became only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Most expect his numbers to drop as a redshirt sophomore, considering the lack of proven commodities at receiver with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw pursuing NFL careers, but there is an expectation that Winston should be a better quarterback in 2014 under Jimbo Fisher, who has had several former quarterbacks drafted in the first round. The one area of concern for the Seminoles at the position is if Winston were to miss time because of injury. Sean Maguire looked strong in the spring game working against the backups, but there is not as much depth at the position as there was a season ago. Jacob Coker, who backed Winston up last fall, is competing for the starting job at Alabama, and Clint Trickett left before the 2013 season began and will start for West Virginia this fall. As long as Winston stays healthy, though, this is clearly the best group in the ACC.

Next up: Duke

There isn’t much returning experience at quarterback in the ACC, but the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ opponent in the ACC title game last fall, bring back Anthony Boone. A redshirt senior, Boone is the leader of the offense and has responsibilities not only as a passer but also running. Boone threw for 2,260 yards as a junior but threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (13). Those numbers are somewhat skewed, as Boone was regularly replaced at the goal line by change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette, who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2013. Connette is no longer with the team, though, so the burden of getting Duke into the end zone will fall squarely on Boone this season. If Duke plans to make a statement that 2013 was not a fluke and the Blue Devils will be an annual contender, Boone will be the one to lead them there.

Sleeper: Virginia

The entire 2013 season was a disaster for the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers felt the pain at quarterback. David Watford failed to retain the job, and coach Mike London hinted at some leadership issues for Watford this spring, too. That opened the door for redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who in May was named the starter. London is putting a tremendous amount of trust in Lambert, who was voted a team captain this spring. There is a good amount of talent on Virginia’s roster as London has recruited well, so there are pieces around Lambert that should help ease him into the starting lineup. It won’t be an ideal start for Lambert as the Cavs open with UCLA, Louisville and BYU among their first four games, but Lambert could make a profound statement by playing well through the first third of the season.

Problem for a contender: Miami

Miami is considered Florida State’s toughest competition in the ACC this season, but the Hurricanes’ season has a little problem heading into the fall: They don’t have a starting quarterback. Projected starter Ryan Williams is rehabilitating a torn knee ligament and hopes to be ready for the opener, but it certainly seems unlikely considering the injury was only sustained three months ago. Williams is the only quarterback on the roster that has started a game for Miami. Kevin Olsen figures to be the starter if Williams is not ready. A blue-chip recruit, the redshirt freshman still might not be ready to be a starter in Coral Gables, which is why it was imperative that Miami brought in transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Heaps bounced around in college with stints at BYU and Kansas, but was a highly regarded high school quarterback. Brad Kaaya signed with Miami this February and was an ESPN 300 quarterback. He has an outside chance of starting. No matter who starts, expect a steady dose of running back Duke Johnson in every game and an expectation for the quarterback to do just enough to win. The first quarter of the season is manageable with games at Louisville and against Florida A&M and Arkansas State, but after that, the Hurricanes will need a definitive answer at quarterback.

Florida State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
9:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Florida State Seminoles:

1. Jalen Ramsey is a star in the making. Last season, Ramsey was overshadowed on his own defense with the likes of Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith demanding the headlines, but Ramsey was only a freshman. As a sophomore, several players point to Ramsey as being the defense’s leader, and he could be the best player on a defense that could have a half-dozen first-round picks in the next few seasons. He will move around to several positions in the secondary this fall.

2. Florida State’s secondary might be the best in the country. While FSU’s talent in the defensive backfield begins with Ramsey it certainly does not end there. P.J. Williams was dominant in the spring game against No. 1 receiver Rashad Greene and is an elite college corner. Opposite him are Ramsey and Ronald Darby, who missed the entire spring. All three could be first-round picks. Nate Andrew is a up-and-coming star and also just a sophomore, and Tyler Hunter returns after a neck injury in 2013.

3. Sean Maguire is a capable backup for the Noles. The disclaimer certainly is that it came against the No. 2 defense in the spring game, but Maguire showed the type of tools to be an efficient quarterback should he be called upon this fall. As the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback for the first time in his college career, Maguire said he made his biggest strides to date this spring.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will the wide receivers step up? Coach Jimbo Fisher is not leaving spring practice with a great feeling about his receivers. He expressed his frustration in the unit on multiple occasions, and the receivers struggled in the spring game. Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are off to the NFL, and Greene will need some help from the younger receivers. Elite high school talents Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison will enroll in the summer.

2. Can the running backs stay on the field? It was a similar feeling last spring for Fisher as he did not have any healthy running backs for the Garnet and Gold game in 2013 either. Karlos Williams was held for precautionary reasons, but backups Dalvin Cook, Ryan Green and Mario Pender all suffered injuries. Cook and Green are out until fall camp with shoulder injuries, and Pender missed his first two seasons with injury and academic issues.

3. What will the linebacker rotation look like? It will be very interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly pairs his linebackers with a fairly inexperienced group. Terrance Smith is a given as a starter, but who will flank him? Matthew Thomas might be too good to keep off the field, which could leave one remaining spot for a very talented unit.

One way-too-early prediction:

The Noles were an offensive juggernaut in 2013, but the offense will sputter some against quality defenses. The issue at receiver is one that will not be settled in the near future, and it could cost Florida State a game.

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