ACC: Take 2

For the third consecutive season, this could be the game that dictates the Atlantic Division and potentially the ACC: Clemson-Florida State.

It was a highly anticipated showdown in October, and while the hype machine isn't quite rolling like it was in 2013, the Sept. 20 version could end up being a much better game. That is because both teams have a bye, and will have two weeks to prepare.

But which team benefits more from the extra week?

Florida State benefits most, says Jared Shanker:

There is certainly a case for each school needing the bye week more, but, for starters, Florida State's defensive line is reeling after The Citadel game when three tackles, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample, exited early with lower leg injuries. The Seminoles were considerably luckier in 2013, dealing with very few injuries, especially at marquee positions.

The depth at defensive tackle was already questionable for Florida State, so the bye week allows the Seminoles to rehab. If the tackles can't go, and Goldman might be the most likely candidate to sit out, the extra practices should help prepare backups Desmond Hollin, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and true freshman Derrick Nnadi for a significant number of snaps. And with Clemson's up-tempo approach, those three could be on the field a lot if the Tigers' offense finds a rhythm.

Florida State's defense could use the extra week to shore up a few early-season deficiencies. Both Oklahoma State and The Citadel found running room against the Seminoles, and ESPN metrics are not impressed with the defense thus far. Florida State ranks 85th among FBS schools in defensive efficiency after finishing No. 1 in that category last season.

It was known going into the season there would be some bumps for a defense that lost pieces throughout the unit, including the coaching staff. Linebackers coach Charles Kelly was promoted to defensive coordinator after Jeremy Pruitt resigned to become the DC at Georgia. The front seven was dealt major blows this offseason with the departures of Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. All three were on NFL opening-day rosters.

The offense is seemingly in good shape, although Florida State could stand to continue developing a threat opposite Rashad Greene at receiver. There is a lot of confidence in Jesus Wilson, who scored a touchdown in his first game back from suspension. The 5-foot-9 Wilson doesn't have prototypical size for an outside receiver, but coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Jameis Winston both believe Wilson more than makes up for his height with his speed and route running.

Overall, it isn't panic time in Tallahassee, but the early bye is definitely welcomed.

Clemson benefits most, says David Hale:

There's no doubt Clemson benefits from the bye week before the trip to Tallahassee, but just what coach Dabo Swinney and his staff plan to do with the time remains something of a mystery.

The biggest reason for that, clearly, is the topic Swinney doesn't want to talk about: Quarterbacks.

In the first two games of the season, Cole Stoudt has gotten the bulk of the reps, leading 21 drives. Freshman phenom Deshaun Watson has led just seven drives, but there are plenty of Tigers fans who believe he looks like the better option already.

That's not necessarily fair, because Stoudt was subjected to much more time on the field against Georgia, while Watson padded his stats a bit against South Carolina State. But it is true that the offense has been far more prolific with Watson under center -- nearly twice the yards-per-play -- through two games, and the freshman has made some very pretty throws while also proving to be a weapon as a runner. Stoudt's biggest asset is his experience, but even Swinney admitted after Saturday's game that Watson's knowledge of the playbook isn't far behind.

So what happens against Florida State?

Frankly, it would be a shock if Watson started, but it also would be a surprise if offensive coordinator Chad Morris hasn't gotten busy already dreaming up some new ways to utilize Watson against an FSU defense that has looked a bit vulnerable in the first two games -- particularly against a mobile QB in Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh, who had 65 yards and two TDs on 10 carries in the opener.

It's not that an extra week of prep is suddenly going to allow Watson to morph into an experienced veteran, but after two weeks of real games -- one against tough competition, one not -- Clemson may have a better idea of what it has in the young QB, and Morris may have a few new ideas about how to use that ability as a weapon.

All the other bye-week narratives apply here, too: Getting healthier, getting rested, extra film study. But the real wild card is Watson, and even Florida State can't be sure what to expect when he's unleashed on Sept. 20.

Take 2: ACC's biggest surprise so far

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
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The best-laid predictions of bloggers often go awry. But in only two weeks? There have been a few things we never saw coming in the ACC, and it’s only September. Take Maryland for instance. Who would have guessed the Terps would have already matched their win total from a year ago with a true freshman quarterback?

Who’s the biggest surprise in the ACC so far?

Depends on who you ask:

Heather Dinich: NC State coach Tom O’Brien had me convinced.

“This is by far the most experienced and deepest team we’ve had,” O’Brien told reporters at the ACC football kickoff in July.

Bam, I was sold. This team was going to be good. An experienced quarterback. Four starters returning on the offensive line. Depth at running back. Better depth on the defensive line. And what was supposed to be one of the best secondaries in the ACC, if not the country.

Instead, this is the most experienced and deepest team O’Brien has had: A 10-7 win over Connecticut in which Glennon was sacked six times. David Amerson being burned for two touchdowns against Tennessee. Four turnovers against the Vols. Fifty-four rushing yards against Uconn.

Surprise.

With a 1-1 start, NC State doesn’t look too bad on paper, but to anyone who has actually watched these games, it doesn’t look like much of a darkhorse, either. Instead, it looks like NC State might have to win ugly all year. Granted, the Pack had to start the season on the road against legitimate competition, but unexpected weaknesses were exposed in both games. The most shocking might be the play of the offensive line, which is O’Brien’s forte, and the poor play of Glennon in the opener. Connecticut’s front seven had no trouble shedding blocks from a line that was missing injured starting left tackle Robert Crisp.

NC State hasn’t even played a league game yet, so it’s far too early to count the Pack out, but considering O’Brien’s vote of confidence in his team this preseason, it’s been a surprisingly lackluster start. NC State has a reputation for finishing strong under O’Brien, and it should be 3-1 heading into the Miami game.

It should also be better than it has looked in the first two games.

Andrea Adelson: Maryland is the hands down biggest surprise in the ACC so far, and really, it is not even close. Think about all the adversity facing this team before the season even began: all the transfers gone; the prospect of playing an overwhelming number of true freshmen; the loss of its leading rusher from a year ago; and then to top it off, the devastating loss of starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a knee injury during the preseason. But this team has not felt sorry for itself, and it has not folded up shop.

Yes the opener against William & Mary was ugly, but that was to be expected with a true freshman at quarterback in Perry Hills, a true freshman at running back in Albert Reid, new coordinators for the offense and defense and a total of 14 players gaining their first game experience. Rather than focusing on all the inexperience on offense, we should have been looking at what this team had going for it on defense, with so many starters returning from a year ago.

Do you know why Maryland has been able to win two games despite eight turnovers -- all by true freshmen? Because the defense has been downright dominant at times. Right now, Maryland ranks No. 2 in the ACC in total defense, No. 4 in rushing defense, No. 3 in passing defense and No. 5 in total defense. A.J. Francis, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Joe Vellano and Demetrius Hartsfield have been outstanding. That was evident in the win over Temple, in which the Terps had three sacks, seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and held the Owls to nine first downs and 52 yards rushing. With Temple threatening late, Hartsfield came up with the crucial interception to seal the win.

Maryland has a solid defense, and will keep getting better on offense. That could mean more surprising things to come.

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