ACC mailblog

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
5:15
PM ET
Enjoy the weekend, gang.

Ramon Capra (@RCap_UM) writes: Duke Johnson, ACC's best chance of Heisman?

Matt Fortuna: Ramon, no one is taking away from Johnson's dominance Thursday night, and throughout much of the season. But you still cannot ignore Jameis Winston. Yes, having won the Heisman last year makes it all the more difficult to win it this year. Yes, his childish antics cost him a chance to face Clemson (and nearly cost his team the game, division and repeat national title shot in the process). But on the field he has been, again, superb, especially in the second half last Saturday against Notre Dame, completing 15 of 16 throws for 181 yards and a touchdown. If the Seminoles win out and make the College Football Playoff, he will remain the Heisman front-runner from the ACC.


Stephen Lackey (@Slackeys) writes: If Duke wins out and beats FSU in the ACC championship game, do they go to the playoffs?

Matt Fortuna: Stephen, Duke reminds me a lot of Minnesota, in the sense that both lost an early game convincingly, have quietly won out since and now we're all realizing, "Holy cow, do we need to start talking about these guys in the playoff discussion?" The scenario you present is a big if — at least the beating FSU part — but there are still so many unknowns for me to really lean one way or the other. You have to assume the SEC winner will get in, and that conference might even get two, especially if Georgia or someone from the East tops the West in the league title game. If Michigan State wins out, I'd imagine that the Spartans are in good shape, considering their lone loss is at Oregon. Do Pac-12 and Big 12 teams then just beat each other up and ruin each league's chances? A 12-1 Duke team with a win over FSU could possibly knock out a potential 11-1 Notre Dame team, too, as the Irish's lone loss (at Florida State) would look worse, and they'd have no win to match Duke's best win. There will be so many fascinating subplots to all of this as we hit the home stretch in the inaugural year of the playoff. Also, wins such as Miami's rout at Virginia Tech last night certainly help Duke, too, considering the Hurricanes were the only team to beat the Blue Devils.


Wayne from Tallahassee, Florida, writes: So what's your take on the play in the FSU-ND game? I think the correct call was made and applaud the officials to make the call at that point in the game. I have always hated the philosophy to swallow the whistle in the final minutes. How far do you go with that --do you allow the receiver to just tackle a defender? I guarantee they wouldn't swallow the whistle on a late hit on the quarterback. PJ should have been flagged; that is one thing we can all agree on. I didn't see him remove his helmet live, but saw it on a replay.

Fortuna: Couldn't have said it better myself, Wayne. Well done.


Lynn Turk from Valley Center writes: Oh, oh! What about this view? From this vantage point, ND was robbed. Neither Fuller nor Prosise committed any fouls. FSU the aggressor in both cases. If ND wins out, will they be 11-1** (actually won)

Fortuna: Lynn, a wide receiver cannot block a defensive back on a forward pass like that. The call was correct. Now, if you want to talk about P.J. Williams not getting flagged for taking his helmet off after the play, as Wayne from Tallahassee just mentioned, then you have a valid argument, in my mind.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Travis Rudolph sensed Notre Dame’s Matthias Farley before he even whipped his head around to turn toward the end zone. Farley had the angle until Rudolph gave him the okey-doke and high-stepped into the end zone to tie the game.

Florida State needed to match scores again in the third quarter, and this time it was Jesus Wilson who was called upon. He cut across the middle, but when he turned his head to locate the pass from Jameis Winston he saw the ball was placed well behind him with the Irish’s Max Redfield eyeing an easy interception. So Wilson contorted his body and made what he considers one of the best catches of his career. Florida State scored on the next play.

[+] EnlargeJesus Wilson
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJesus Wilson is tied for the FSU team lead in touchdown receptions with four.
The Seminoles’ young receivers are emerging, and it is coming at the perfect time for No. 2 Florida State.

“I’m so proud of the young guys,” Winston said. You can’t be prouder than [when] a young guy just [steps] up in the clutch.”

All offseason, Florida State was peppered with questions on whether it had legitimate options in the passing game outside of receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary. The Seminoles were littered with highly ranked receivers, but all played sparingly or not at all. The three blue-chip recruits had promising talent, which doesn’t always yield promising results.

Restlessness among anxious Seminoles fans began setting in after Greene was the only receiver counted upon in Week 1. It wasn’t until the end of September against NC State when fears were assuaged.

Now seven games into the season, the receiving corps has the makings of a unit that could soon be considered one of the team’s greatest strengths, and it is due in part to Rudolph, a freshman, and Wilson, a sophomore. They’ll be counted on heavily going forward, and the passing game will be tested Thursday when the undefeated Seminoles play Louisville’s top-ranked defense.

“I’ve grown a lot,” Wilson said. “I’m more relaxed on the field. I’ve got a chemistry with Jameis.”

Both Rudolph and Wilson’s growth was stunted early in the season for different reasons. Wilson was initially charged with a felony for stealing a student’s scooter and missed the opener after he pleaded down to two misdemeanors.

Rudolph underwent offseason foot surgery and was hampered throughout camp, and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher felt that injury weighed on Rudolph mentally just as much as it did physically.

But now he’s 100 percent healthy, and his best game of his young career was against Notre Dame when he caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.

“He has the ability to stick his foot in the ground and run full speed and run the whole route tree, and he’s very strong,” Fisher said. “He’s also explosive as a runner. He’s got route-running skills and the guys with [speed] don’t always have route-running skills and he’s got a combination of both.”

Talking with media members after he caught 11 passes for 203 yards, Greene was frustrated. He felt the passing game needed to be ironed out, and it began with finding a few complements at receiver. The steady progress from the rest of the receiving corps has been clear to see, but Fisher said he still saw Notre Dame bracketing defenders around Greene and O’Leary.

“You can call [plays] all you want and design [but] people will take things away, so when you go back to your outlets, those guys have to perform,” Fisher said. “And that’s why I’m so happy. [Wilson] and [Rudolph] are doing a great job right now.”

Inside the undefeated teams

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:46
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The 2014 college football season has been as unpredictable, with four unbeaten teams remaining, the fewest through Week 8 in the past 20 seasons. Florida State entered the season as the overwhelming choice as the No. 1 team, but few would have picked Ole Miss and Mississippi State as two of the final four unbeaten teams. The top-ranked Bulldogs were not even in the AP Top 25 until Week 5.

Below, ESPN Stats & Info looks at what each team has excelled at, and what might be an area of vulnerability.

No. 1 Mississippi State

W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 2-0
Best win: vs. Auburn
Best road win: at LSU

Key Stat: Quarterback Dak Prescott has been responsible for 23 touchdowns through his first six games. That’s one more than Tim Tebow had through six games for Florida in his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2007, when he set the SEC record by being responsible for 55 touchdowns.

Team Strength: Dynamic quarterback play. Prescott is ranked first in the ESPN Heisman Watch, and with good reason. His team is No. 1 in the AP poll, and he has gained at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in four of six games this season. No other FBS quarterback has more than two such games.

Potential weakness: Secondary. Mississippi State is allowing 68 more passing yards per game than any other SEC defense. Big passing plays have been an issue: The Bulldogs have allowed the most completions (25) and are tied for the most touchdowns allowed (eight) in the SEC on passes thrown 15 yards or longer, despite playing one fewer game than most teams.

No. 2 Florida State
W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 2-0
Best win: vs. Notre Dame
Best road win: at NC State

Key Stat: Florida State is 7-0 but has not been dominant in its wins. The Seminoles have trailed at halftime of three games after never trailing in the second half of any of their regular-season games last season. Their chance of winning at halftime has been 65 percent (33rd in the FBS) after leading the nation in halftime win probability by a wide margin last season (86 percent halftime win probability in 2013).

Team Strength: Jameis Winston. He ranks second among active quarterbacks (behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota) with an 86.8 Total QBR since the start of last season (minimum five starts). Winston has excelled against the blitz, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with a Power 5-high 26 touchdowns since the start of last season.

Potential weakness: Rushing between the tackles. The Seminoles are averaging 3.5 yards per rush on designed runs between the tackles, 63rd out of 65 Power 5 teams. They ranked third on such rushes last season.

No. 3 Ole Miss
W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 1-0
Best win: vs. Alabama
Best road win: at Texas A&M

Key Stat: Bo Wallace leads all SEC quarterbacks in fourth-quarter completion percentage (73.1 percent), yards per attempt (13.4) and Total QBR (90.7). In part due to Wallace’s effectiveness, the Rebels have outscored their opponents by an FBS-best 8.4 points per game in the fourth quarter.

Team Strength: Menacing defense. The Rebels’ plus-19.2 defensive efficiency is on pace to be the best in the country in the past 10 seasons. They have forced at least two turnovers in six of their seven games this season, tied for the most in FBS.

Potential weakness: Rushing. Ole Miss is averaging 3.9 yards per rush, third-worst in the SEC. The Rebels' ball carriers have been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 39 percent of their designed rushes, the worst percentage in the SEC.

No. 23 Marshall
W-L vs. current AP top 25: 0-0
Best win: vs. Middle Tennessee
Best road win: at Akron

Key Stat: Marshall leads the nation in scoring margin (plus-30.9) and average in-game win probability (84 percent) but has played the third-easiest schedule in the FBS. The road does not get much harder for the Thundering Herd. They have the 102nd-ranked remaining strength of schedule, resulting in a 56.7 percent chance they will enter a bowl undefeated, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Team Strength: Offensive balance. Marshall ranks second to Baylor in the FBS in yards per game (574.9) and first in yards per play (7.8), and it has shown an impeccable balance. Marshall is the only FBS school that is averaging at least 275 passing yards and rushing yards per game.

Potential weakness: Discipline. Marshall is committing the fifth-most penalties per game (9.6) for the third-most yards per game (90.0). The Thundering Herd have been penalized for at least 50 yards in every game this season, one of four FBS teams (Colorado, Akron, Tulane) to have such a streak.
Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Last season, we all wondered how in the world Stanford was good enough to defeat six ranked opponents during the regular season, but couldn’t beat Utah on the road.

The Utes, who finished 5-7 in 2013, upset the Cardinal 27-21 in Salt Lake City, an ugly loss that might have prevented Stanford from being selected for a four-team playoff if it had been around a year earlier.

After watching Virginia Tech lose to Miami 30-6 at home Thursday night, the Hokies’ stunning 35-21 upset of then-No. 8 Ohio State on the road Sept. 6 looks like the biggest head-scratching result of 2014.

Since upsetting the Buckeyes, the Hokies have dropped four of their past six games and have looked terrible on offense. Miami outgained the Hokies 255-36 in the first half to build a 24-0 lead, and then forced them to fumble on their first three possessions of the second half.

Virginia Tech’s 250-game streak of scoring even seemed to be very much in doubt, until backup quarterback Mark Leal threw a 14-yard touchdown to Isaiah Ford with 1:30 to go.

Sure, the Buckeyes have looked much better since losing to Virginia Tech, scoring more than 50 points in four straight victories. But OSU had better hope the College Football Playoff selection committee wasn’t paying attention to the Hokies on Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesBarring a quick turnaround to the Gators' season, the Will Muschamp era in Gainesville appears to be drawing to a close.
2. Unless Florida can run the table the rest of the season, which would include upsets of No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 1 and No. 2 Florida State on the road on Nov. 29, the Will Muschamp era will probably come to an end after four seasons.

The early list of candidates being mentioned for the not-yet-open UF job include Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.

Florida has contacted Stoops about its openings in the past, but he has always been reluctant to leave the Sooners. Mullen, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator under former coach Urban Meyer, seems like an obvious choice. But Mullen and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their previous working relationship, so those past differences would have to be worked out.

I don’t think Foley, one of the most respected ADs in the country, can afford to make another mistake. With Muschamp’s tenure seemingly headed to a disappointing end, Foley is batting 1-for-3 in football coaching hires since legendary coach Steve Spurrier left. Foley struck out on former UF coach Ron Zook and hit a home run with Meyer. He can't be wrong again.

3. Here’s a great stat from ESPN Stats & Info, which says a lot about the current state of affairs in Michigan: According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Michigan State is a 17-point favorite against Michigan this weekend. According to historical lines data from The Gold Sheet going back to 1957, it is the highest betting line in the rivalry in the past 57 years. Before this week’s game, the most points Michigan State was favored by in the rivalry was 13 in 1966 (MSU won 20-7).

4. Given Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel’s play the past two seasons, it’s hard to believe that he was actually the last quarterback to defeat Florida State. Driskel led the Gators to a 37-26 victory over the Seminoles on the road on Nov. 24, 2012, completing 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown. The Seminoles were undone by five turnovers in that loss, including three interceptions thrown by former quarterback EJ Manuel.

Since that loss, the Seminoles have won 22 games in a row. Meanwhile, the Gators have dropped 11 of their past 18 games.

5. More than a few athletic directors around the country had to cringe when Texas AD Steve Patterson suggested earlier this week that the Longhorns were budgeting $6 million annually to pay student-athletes $10,000 in cost-of-attendance and likeness stipends per year.

Patterson said the Longhorns are prepared to pay each of their student-athletes $5,000 for full cost of attendance (which would cover educational expenses that a full scholarship doesn’t currently pay) and $5,000 in compensation for the university’s use of the player’s name, image and likeness.

Patterson said Texas is prepared to provide the stipends if the NCAA doesn’t win its appeals of its current legal battles concerning student-athlete compensation.

The bottom line: Paying an additional $6 million to student-athletes is a drop in the bucket for an athletic department such as Texas. In fact, it’s only 3.6 percent of the Longhorns’ annual operating budget for athletics. But for smaller (and poorer) FBS programs such as Iowa State, Purdue, Wake Forest and Washington State, the additional costs will be significant.
video

Retired Florida Supreme Court chief justice Major Harding has been selected to serve as the independent observer who will conduct Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's upcoming student conduct code hearing, a source close to the situation confirmed to ESPN.com on Thursday.

Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, faces as many as four student conduct code violations, including two related to sexual misconduct. The allegations stem from a December 2012 incident in which a former FSU student accused Winston of sexually assaulting her at his off-campus apartment in Tallahassee, Florida. The state attorney's office in Tallahassee chose not to pursue criminal charges against Winston after an investigation last December.

Harding's selection was first reported by WCTV in Tallahassee on Thursday.

Harding was selected over two other retired Florida Supreme Court justices, Joseph Hatchett and Charles T. Wells. Harding, 79, was a state Supreme Court justice from 1991 to 2000. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he is a graduate of Wake Forest and Virginia's law school. Harding, who is currently a practicing attorney with the law firm Ausley McMullen in Tallahassee, began his career as a jurist in Florida with a 1968 appointment as a Duval County Juvenile Court judge. When he was appointed to the state's Supreme Court, he was the dean of the Florida Judicial College and chair-elect of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges, according to his bio on the law firm's website.


(Read full post)


video

National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Matt Schick to break down where several of the top recruits in the nation might commit, including the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, Terry Beckner Jr.
When you think Bobby Petrino, you immediately think offense.

But that has not been the case for Louisville this season, and that could be a good thing for the Cards as they prepare to host No. 2 Florida State next Thursday night.

Defense has to take priority in this matchup.

Defense is exactly how the Cards have won this season.

Time to embrace that defensive mentality, Louisville fans.

[+] EnlargeGerod Holliman
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsGerod Holliman and the Louisville secondary will face a strong Florida State offense.
Louisville ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, but that is not a stat that gets defensive coordinator Todd Grantham going.

What has him most encouraged is the way his defense has limited scoring opportunities. That has jumped out at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, too. When asked for his first impressions on the Louisville defense, Fisher said, "Not many people get points and not many people get yards."

In the six ACC games Louisville has played, the Cards have held all their opponents to below their scoring average. In all but one game, they have held their opponents below their total offense average.

They are aggressive, they are stingy, and they can easily set the tone against a Florida State offense that has struggled to move the ball at times throughout the course of the season.

"Any time you're in big games, you’ve got to be able to play a balanced game, offensively and defensively, but at the same time, anytime you can be sound on defense and hard to score on, it gives your offense a chance to stay on track and not have to abandon the game plan," Grantham said in a phone interview this week.

"So as long as the score’s in a low number and it’s a one-possession game, then everybody can stay with the game plan. The issue that always occurs is when you get down multiple points and people have to abandon what they do. So our job is to be hard to score on and keep that number to a low number."

Florida State has not faced a scoring defense quite as good as this one. While Clemson and Notre Dame might have presented the strongest challenge to the Seminoles up front, Louisville has the stronger secondary, a group that has thrived playing a pattern-match scheme that is predicated on defensive backs truly understanding receiver routes.

The Cards also stress having players win one-on-one matchups not only in the secondary but in the front seven as well. They have been able to do so a majority of the time this season. As an example, Louisville has safeties Gerod Holliman and James Sample, along with cornerback Charles Gaines -- in the top 11 in the ACC in passes defended. That’s more than any other team.

Louisville also has three players ranked in the top 11 in the ACC in sacks -- Lorenzo Mauldin, Sheldon Rankins and Keith Kelsey. That’s tied for the most with Virginia.

"I felt we had individuals who could be really good at their positions, so we talk about that as winning your one-on-one matchups," Grantham said. "As you go through the day and you work, try to be the best at your position and if you’re the best at your position, and we can get you in one-on-one situations, you’re going to affect the game, which is good for our team. We’ve been able to get some matchups that are positive for us and those guys have made some plays."

Controlling what happens in the pass game could be critical for Louisville, considering how big a threat Jameis Winston is to take over at any moment. If the Cards can take away options like Rashad Greene and Bobo Wilson, their chances improve greatly.

No team has held Florida State to fewer than 30 points with Winston as the starter; nobody has scored 30 on Louisville this season.

It is obvious that Louisville will have to hold the score down to win. At least the Cards have practice doing that.

Cannot ask much more than that headed into the biggest challenge of the season.

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:00
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Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

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

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

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

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

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

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

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

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

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

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

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

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

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

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

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

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

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

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

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

Florida State’s defensive backs

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
8:00
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We start Thursday with the fallout of the Wainstein Report, which stated Wednesday that North Carolina academic advisers pushed athletes toward sham classes from 1993-2011.

You can read all about it here, and even though no head coaches were directly implicated, the report is not favorable for a once-proud academic institution that has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in recent years.

As the (Raleigh) News & Observer's Luke DeCock says, UNC finally got some real answers, revealing an ugly truth and an apology from chancellor Carol Folt.

What's next, though? FoxSports' Stewart Mandel looks at how the NCAA Committee on Infractions came down on Minnesota's men's basketball program in 2000. What happened with the Tar Heels certainly looks worse, and it cuts right to the heart of what the NCAA says it is about.

The NCAA announced in June that it was re-opening the UNC case. Has or will it make the same kind of progress and/or conclusions that the Wainstein Report did? When? Does it use the Wainstein Report to take matters into its own hands, as it did with the Freeh Report on Penn State -- a move that probably cost the NCAA credibility after reducing Penn State's sanctions on two different occasions. Maybe UNC takes the initiative and self-sanctions?

So much is up in the air right now, but Wednesday appeared to be at least a start for UNC in escaping this cloud of controversy.

Here are the rest of your ACC morning links ...
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This season is uncharted waters for college football. With the inaugural playoff looming and the first committee rankings being released Tuesday, nobody is quite entirely sure how to accurately size up each team’s résumé.

“But you got to fill the airwaves,” said Jimbo Fisher, coach of No. 2 Florida State, with a laugh. “You got to have something to talk about.”

Outside of whether the SEC will land two teams in the College Football Playoff, no topic has been as hotly discussed as whether Florida State, the preseason No. 1 and still undefeated, could survive a loss and still manage to earn a bid. The consensus is the Seminoles have little margin for error, but opinions differ on how slim Florida State's margin is.

Florida State’s body of work has been held up to the light and examined for flaws more than other team. It’s part of the double-edged sword that accompanies the title of reigning national champion and offseason favorite. While the Seminoles aren’t perfect, their record still remains without a blemish, and there is something to be said for that.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher has seen plenty of improvement in his team as the weeks pass.
“Culture is so important because you find excuses to win and you do things in big moments, and this team does and is able to do that,” he said.

That culture can’t be quantified in numbers or accurately measured by computations, though, and several of those metrics have not produced favorable results. The Seminoles are No. 21 in game control, which measures how dominant a team is in each game; Mississippi State (1) and Ole Miss (4) are both in the top five. The Seminoles also rank seventh in the Football Power Index, behind one-loss teams Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Ohio State. While the Seminoles have a 31 percent chance to finish undefeated, it’s more of a reflection of their remaining schedule in an ACC bereft of playoff contenders. It should be noted they have already defeated Oklahoma State in a neutral-site game, Clemson without Jameis Winston and No. 7 Notre Dame.

“I don’t listen to it. I don’t want to lose, either,” Fisher said. “This is a marathon. What you think of one team, what they thought a couple weeks ago they don’t think now and maybe [in] three weeks they won’t think what they think now. We’re trying to put them in [the playoff] now, but let things sort itself out.

“There’s a lot of ball to be played.”

Whether Florida State begins No. 1 in the committee’s rankings or somewhere below, Fisher likes where his team stands. It has not measured up to the 2013 team statistically, but Fisher harped all season that 2014 would be a different squad even if many of the players, including a Heisman Trophy winner, returned. He implored the public to throw away recent history when judging this team.

After the first four games, Fisher said he saw a team improving even if the rest of the country did not. Now, more than halfway through the season, he still sees a team poised to play its best football.

“I love our team. I really do. I like to coach it,” he said. “It competes hard, plays well, gets better every week. We’re continuing to get better and I think we’ll continue to grow but I like where we’re at.”

Seemingly the two biggest concerns for the Seminoles, who enter their final bye this weekend, are the defense and the running game. Last season, the defense ranked first nationally in scoring and third in total defense. This season, under new coordinator Charles Kelly, the unit ranks 34th and 52nd, respectively, albeit without several of the star players that highlighted the defense in 2013.

In the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, though, the defense held the Irish to just 109 yards. They had eight sacks entering the game, but sacked Everett Golson three times.

The Seminoles have not run the ball effectively for much of the season, as the stable of running backs has struggled to replicate the productivity void left behind by 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman. Against FBS competition, the Seminoles have yet to top 171 yards rushing.

With Winston at quarterback and the passing game clicking, Fisher believes he just needs a rushing attack that can complement the aerial assault and pick up yards in the game’s tensest moments -- third downs, goal line and fourth quarters.

“We ran the ball very effectively when we had to run it in the second half, and I was proud of that, Fisher said. “… But we've got to get better. The balance as far as yards aren’t [there], but we’re making enough big plays in the passing game and we’re running enough to [keep defenses] honest. But we’re going to continue to run the football and we’ll keep working on that.”

UA jersey tour: Josh Sweat

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
3:49
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ESPN 300 defensive end Josh Sweat received his Under Armour All-America jersey on Wednesday. The No. 5 ranked prospect received the honor in front of his classmates, teammates and family and spoke about his accomplishments on and off the field.

A short video played on a projector before the ceremony, giving everyone in attendance a better look at who Sweat really is as a person.

Sweat took some time to answer a few questions to help expand on who he is, where he has been and what makes him tick.

What one player are you looking forward to competing against?: Yeah, probably the biggest person I was looking for was Martez Ivey. Great guy, I played against him at a camp and I believe that's the person I would have been going against anyway. That would be a good matchup.

If you could start a team with any other player in your class who would it be?: Give me the best corners, defensive backs and linebackers. Everybody who can cover the best so I can get to the quarterback. That's a defensive end's best friend is the secondary.

What was your earliest football memory?: Probably knocking off Oscar Smith middle school in the city championship. The middle school I went to never won a game two years before and then I came out there and we won everything in every other sport for this one year. We beat them in the city championship and now I'm at Oscar Smith high school. So I played against a lot of the guys that are my teammates now. That’s a good thing to brag about. When they bring it up, I had to brag.

Which football player did you idolize or want to be like when you were a kid?: Honestly, no one. Other than my two older brothers. I watch it more now that I'm heavy into football.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport who would it be?: I would like to race Usain Bolt. I would challenge LeBron James to try to dunk on me. I would challenge him to try to. I would also swim against Michael Phelps.

Why do you wear your number?: I wear No. 9. The person that previously wore it was a real good guy, a tight end and linebacker. But, my favorite number is 2. I always wanted to wear that number.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?: I used to video game heavily. I mostly played "Call of Duty." I play a little bit now, but not as much as I used to. I used to sit in the house and play before I was heavy on football.

ACC playoff watch: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
3:00
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We’re down to two playoff contenders left in the ACC, and as top teams around the country continue to tumble, the urgency of each upcoming matchup is magnified more than ever. Here’s how things stack up for the ACC after eight weeks.

Where the ACC stands: From now until the end of the season, it’s not about profile or reputation for the ACC. It’s simply about wins and, more specifically, wins for Florida State. The league continues to have just two ranked teams and now has just two officially alive for the playoff. That would be FSU, which beat Notre Dame in controversial fashion, and Duke, the defending Coastal champs that continue to chug along.

[+] EnlargeShaun Wilson
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesShaun Wilson and Duke have quietly put together a 6-1 record and are still a College Football Playoff contender.
Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 2 AP, No. 7 FPI), Duke (NR AP, No. 38 FPI)

Nonconference record: 36-14 (1-0 last week), 22-14 vs. FBS, 5-7 vs. Power 5 and Notre Dame

Week 8 recap: Let’s start with Duke, perhaps the most overlooked playoff contender in America. There are 23 teams yet to be plucked from the ranks of playoff possibilities according to our Eliminator, and only two -- Duke and Minnesota -- remain unranked in the AP poll.

But if any team is used to being overlooked, it’s Duke. The Blue Devils don’t seem to care. They just keep winning. One week after ending Georgia Tech’s time atop the division, they pulled the same trick with Virginia, and suddenly the chances of Duke finishing out the regular season at 11-1 seem somewhat realistic.

If that happens, it will almost certainly be Florida State that awaits the Blue Devils in Charlotte. More and more, the narrative around the Seminoles is that they’re a flawed team teetering on the brink of a loss.

FSU reinforced that storyline against Notre Dame, struggling throughout the first half and requiring a controversial penalty that overturned what would’ve been a game-winning TD for the Fighting Irish with just seconds to play.

If irrelevance is Duke’s burden, lofty standards are Florida State’s. When Auburn pulled off one miracle after another last year, it was hailed as a team of destiny and marched into the BCS title game at 12-1 riding two of the more unlikely wins of all time against Georgia and Alabama. Florida State has fought back to win games against Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame, but the storyline seems to be much different. The Seminoles are no team of destiny. They’re a team that keeps narrowly scraping by. Chalk it up to the high standard set by last year's national championship crew. It might not be fair, but it’s reality.

What's that mean for FSU? Well, just look at the FPI rankings. Despite beating a top-5 team, FSU tumbled from No. 4 to No. 7 -- now trailing five SEC teams and an Ohio State squad that lost at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2. Again, FSU belongs in the playoff, but it still can't afford a loss in spite of clearing its biggest obstacle of the season.

Paradoxically, Notre Dame's loss appears to have only burnished its playoff pedigree, which might also be a good thing for the ACC. Given that the league plays four games against the Irish this year, and that they’ll likely be the highest-ranked team FSU plays all season, respect for Notre Dame is respect for the ACC.

That loss, however, did knock another team from the ranks of the undefeated, as did Baylor’s stumble against West Virginia. Florida State is now one of just four teams in the nation without a loss.

Also of note, Georgia Tech fell to North Carolina in the final minute Saturday, thus officially eliminating the Yellow Jackets from playoff contention.

Week 9 preview: The slate in the ACC is ugly, with both of the remaining playoff contenders enjoying a bye. FSU has a particularly daunting task against Louisville the following week, and Duke has a showdown with Pittsburgh that could decide the leader of the Coastal Division. For Week 9, however, it’ll be a little bit of scoreboard watching for the league’s contenders.

Oregon, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss -- all ranked in the top 10 -- go on the road for conference games this week, which could set up for some more chaos in what’s already been a chaotic season. While the first three teams are favored by at least two touchdowns, Ole Miss heads to LSU for a night game in Baton Rouge -- always a tough place to win. At this point, chaos is good for Florida State, assuming the Seminoles can avoid the absurdity. The more top contenders that have a loss on their resume, the better Florida State’s winning streak looks -- even if those wins came in close calls.

Top trap games remaining for contenders 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:15
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Oregon didn't see Arizona coming. Baylor was blindsided by West Virginia. Now those teams' playoff hopes are damaged, if not totaled.

It's often the surprising losses -- the trap games -- that derail promising seasons. Just ask Oklahoma State (Iowa State) in 2011 or USC (Oregon State) in 2008.

As for 2014, here are the most perilous traps remaining down the stretch for the top six in the AP poll. That includes Mississippi State, FSU and Ole Miss, the three remaining undefeated Power 5 teams.

1. Ole Miss
Trap game: at Arkansas (Nov. 22)
When they go to Fayetteville, the Rebels will essentially be coming off two open dates (they play Presbyterian on Nov. 8). But Arkansas still presents a classic look-ahead scenario, because Ole Miss has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State the following week. The "biggest Egg Bowl ever" chatter is buzzing now; just imagine what it will be like a week before the game. If the Rebels' focus is waning, Arkansas is good enough to punish them for it. Mark it down: The Razorbacks are going to end their 16-game SEC losing streak this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened in an impactful game. Mississippi State (Nov. 1) also should be on high alert. Arkansas will slow down the game. Even if Ole Miss isn't running as much up-tempo this season, pace is still something the Rebs want to dictate. The timing and matchup are as dangerous as it gets.

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:00
AM ET
Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
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It's rarely a good sign when a defensive coordinator is imploring a fanbase to respect the job his defense has done, but that's what Miami assistant Mark D'Onofrio was doing this week.

"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.

The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.

Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.

There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.

But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.

The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.

With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
  • Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
  • Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
  • For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
  • Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
  • Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
  • Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
  • Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
  • Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
  • If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.

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