NCF Nation: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and while the ACC had plenty of impressive performances in 2014, Jameis Winston was the lone representative from the conference to finish in the top 10 in voting.

That could certainly change in 2015, when the ACC has several emerging stars who could contend for the award. Here’s a quick look at the league’s top challengers for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

(Note: We’re assuming that Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson won’t return for 2015, but if either does come back, he would immediately jump to the top of our rankings.)

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

If he had stayed healthy all season, Watson might have been a contender for the award as a true freshman. Assuming he can stay on the field in 2015, he looks poised to be the biggest playmaker in the conference for an offense in which he will be surrounded by young talent.

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

Kaaya had his ups and downs as a true freshman in 2014, but he showed plenty of poise and was arguably the ACC’s top deep-ball threat. Miami’s offense has plenty of skill-position talent, but Kaaya will need the Hurricanes to finish better than 6-6 if he wants a crack at the Heisman.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

There will be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding Cook’s sophomore campaign in 2015, and if Florida State makes another run at the playoff, he would likely be in the Heisman conversation. The problem for Cook is that he will likely be starring on an offense forced to replace its top receiver, top tight end, four starting linemen and Heisman-winning quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner, Detrick Bonner
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt running back James Conner rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns in 2014.
4. Pittsburgh RB James Conner

Few players in the country carried a heavier share of their team’s offensive load in 2014 than Conner did for Pitt. While he was a bit overshadowed by the Big Ten's top running backs, his 1,675 yards and 24 rushing TDs would have had him in the Heisman Trophy discussion most seasons. He could certainly match or exceed those numbers next year.

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

In his first year running Paul Johnson’s offense, Thomas was exceptional, but as the Georgia Tech coach was quick to point out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. With a year of experience and wider latitude in directing the offense in 2015, Thomas could easily emerge as one of the country’s most explosive offensive threats.

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

Williams’ numbers in 2014 were exceptional, but he was largely overshadowed by UNC’s rocky season defensively. If the Tar Heels can finally emerge into a Coastal contender with Williams leading a high-powered offensive attack, he could emerge as one of the nation’s biggest dual threats at quarterback. His numbers this year were already similar to Dak Prescott, so perhaps 2015 will be Williams’ chance to spend the season getting the Heisman hype.

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

It’s tough for wide receivers to push their way into the Heisman campaign, but Boyd’s numbers in 2014 were exceptional. Whether he can turn in a 2015 season similar to what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did this year depends greatly on whether there is a new coaching regime at Pitt and the progress of Panthers QB Chad Voytik. But Boyd’s talent as a receiver and on special teams certainly will be worth monitoring.

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

He played second fiddle to Johnson this year, but it’s easy to see why Miami fans are so excited about the future for Yearby. As a true freshman, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 600 yards of total offense. With a starter’s share of the offense next season, Yearby could emerge into an all-purpose star for the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby, Jalen Ramsey
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJalen Ramsey (8) will be a leader on a Florida State defense that might have a little more on its shoulders in 2015.
9. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey

Defensive players aren’t usually in the Heisman conversation, but with so much turnover expected on FSU’s offense in 2015, it will be up to Ramsey and the defense to keep the Seminoles afloat. Ramsey is already one of the nation’s top defensive backs, and in his third year as a starter, he could easily take the next step into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a few big plays at crucial times -- much as Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o did in 2012.

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

Here’s an under-the-radar player to watch as a potential Heisman hopeful in 2015. Wilson wasn’t Duke’s starter this season, but as a true freshman he still led the Blue Devils in rushing (590 yards) and was second in TDs (5) while finishing sixth in the nation in yards per rush (8.0). He could secure the starting job next year on an offense that could be more run-heavy, giving Wilson a chance to rack up huge numbers as one of the league’s most explosive runners.

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
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ACC bowl projections: Week 15

December, 6, 2014
Dec 6
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We’ll know the answers for certain in just a few more hours, but for now, here’s our best guess as to where each ACC team lands for bowl season.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville
Citrus Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame
Belk Bowl: NC State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN Bowl: North Carolina

ACC bowl projections: Week 14

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
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The final week of the regular season meant bowl bids were locked up by Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, giving the ACC 11 bowl-eligible teams (or 12, counting Notre Dame). That makes for a crowded field.

A quick refresher on how this will work.

Tier 1: The Orange Bowl takes the top-ranked nonplayoff team from the ACC. If a Big Ten team plays in the Orange Bowl, too, then the Citrus Bowl gets the next pick. If not, the Russell Athletic Bowl selects the third ACC team, and the Citrus Bowl will not include an ACC team at all.

Tier 2: The Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl, along with either the Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl, will divide up the next group of four ACC teams.

Tier 3: The Military Bowl, Independence Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl and Bitcoin Bowl will then select in that order. The Birmingham Bowl was the ACC's conditional bowl, but it has already filled its primary obligations to other leagues.

Notre Dame will take one of the ACC's bowl bids.

That means 12 teams are available for 10 guaranteed slots with two leftover. Almost certainly, however, the ACC will send two teams to New Year's Six games (Florida State and Georgia Tech), which takes care of one extra slot. The Citrus Bowl contingent would take care of the other, but if that does not come to fruition, the league would be free to negotiate with any bowl that has an open slot and does not have an alternate agreement already in place with another league. Last year, the ACC had two teams unaccounted for by its bowl tie-ins and both found homes, so the league is not concerned a team will be left out this time around.

So, with all that said, here's how we project it shakes out.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Duke
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Notre Dame
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: North Carolina
Quick Lane Bowl: NC State
BITCOIN Bowl: Miami
Open slot: Pittsburgh
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

Florida State once again led the way with 17 players named, including 10 named first-team All-ACC. Duke had nine players named, Virginia had eight, and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech had seven.

The most noteworthy first-team selection was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a second straight undefeated season, but also leads the league in interceptions. The battle for the top spot at quarterback was particularly close, with UNC's Marquise Williams (second team), Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas (third team), Miami's Brad Kaaya, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and NC State's Jacoby Brissett all having strong seasons, too.

Here's the first-team All-ACC selections:

QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre Jackson (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: David Helton (Duke)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: P.J. Williams (FSU)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)

K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
Ret: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

Miami tight end Clive Walford is a Mackey Award finalist and has more yards, touchdowns and first downs and caught a higher percentage of his targets than fellow Mackey Finalist, Nick O'Leary. Still, O'Leary was named to the first team.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was a third-team selection thanks to missing the first seven games of the season, but he ranks seventh in the league in yards in spite of just playing five games.

NC State's Shadrach Thornton is third among running backs in yards (811) but was not named to any of the All-ACC teams.

BC's Josh Keyes has 11 tackles for loss — good for 12th in the conference — but was not one of the 10 linebackers named to All-ACC teams.

Wake Forest's Marquel Lee ranks 10th in the league with 12 TFLs and ninth in tackles with 101 but did not even earn an honorable mention.

Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country, helping pave the way for the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, but he was not a first-team selection.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 14

November, 29, 2014
Nov 29
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We learned plenty in the final weekend of the regular season.

1. Unbeaten ACC. The ACC went 4-0 against its SEC counterparts on Saturday, its first sweep on rivalry weekend since 2000. SEC apologists can spin the sweep any way they want ("But it was against the dreadful East!"), but there is one fact that cannot be ignored: The SEC East is a part of the SEC as a whole. So four wins over the East means four wins over the SEC. That matters. The biggest, most dramatic belonged to No. 16 Georgia Tech, upsetting Georgia 30-24 in Athens in overtime. Remember, No. 9 Georgia was considered a dark-horse playoff contender when the weekend started. No longer. The Jackets finished with 10 wins in the regular season for the first time since 2009 and beat Georgia for the first time since 2008. Clemson also ended its five-game losing streak to South Carolina in a dominating 35-17 victory. Not even Steve Spurrier had much to say afterward, crediting the Tigers for having the better team. No. 3 Florida State held on to beat Florida 24-19, while Louisville had to come back to beat Kentucky 44-40 in perhaps the chippiest game of the day. For a league that has had its struggles against its closest conference rival, the big weekend shows the ACC is capable of winning more than its fair share. Indeed, the ACC is on pace to post back-to-back winning records against the SEC for the first time since 2002-03.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
AP Photo/David TulisJustin Thomas and Georgia Tech flew under the radar, but they are a dangerous team to face.
2. Watson's magic. Clemson needed to beat a down South Carolina team, and the Tigers came through in a big way. For the first time in school history, they had a 250-yard passer, 180-yard rusher and 180-yard receiver in the same game. That 250-yard passer, freshman phenom Deshaun Watson, played the game with a torn ACL. Say what? Coach Dabo Swinney revealed after the game that Watson tore the ligament during practice before the Georgia State game. He played against the Gamecocks with a knee brace and proved to be effective despite the injury. He finished 14-of-19 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. His passing efficiency of 188.57 is the best in the nation. Swinney expects Watson to play in the bowl game and then undergo surgery. The future looks bright in Clemson, though the Tigers might be looking for a new offensive coordinator. Chad Morris has been in discussion with SMU about its head-coaching job.

3. Virginia Tech and Pitt are going bowling. Just when you thought it was time to bury the Hokies, up they rise against their perennial punching bag, Virginia. It mattered not that UVa came into the game with big-time momentum with a win over Miami. In the Virginia-Virginia Tech series, the Hokies should be considered the favorites until the Hoos actually win. Virginia Tech extended its winning streak in the series to 11 and its bowl streak to 22 after the come-from-behind 24-20 win Friday night. Meanwhile, Pitt handled Miami on Saturday night 35-23 to become bowl eligible again. The Panthers started the season 3-0 before losing six of their next seven games. But wins over Syracuse and Miami salvaged the season for Pitt, which ran for 226 yards in the win over the Canes.

4. NC State rising. Perhaps the most surprising result of the day was in Chapel Hill, when the Wolfpack completely dominated North Carolina 35-7. The Tar Heels looked dominant themselves last week against Duke but came out flat and emotionless in their second rivalry game in as many weeks. Both Jacoby Brissett and Shad Thornton had over 160 yards rushing as the Wolfpack basically did whatever they wanted on the ground. After winning no ACC games a year ago, NC State finished 3-5 in ACC play, won seven games and beat UNC for the first time since 2011. That qualifies as progress.

5. BC, Duke keep on truckin'. It was convenient to discount what BC and Duke did a season ago, but they both proved this season they are no flukes. Despite losing Andre Williams, BC finished 7-5 again after a 28-7 win over Syracuse and had opportunities to beat Florida State and Clemson along the way. While Duke lost a chance to repeat as Coastal champs, the Blue Devils won nine games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Their 41-21 win over Wake Forest on Saturday night was one of their most complete victories of the season. Pretty obvious that Steve Addazio and David Cutcliffe have proven themselves to be among the best coaches in the ACC.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
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It seems like just yesterday we were kicking off the ACC season, but here we are at the finish line. Week 14 may be the end of the regular season, but there’s still plenty of intrigue -- from crucial rivalry showdowns to three teams playing for bowl eligibility. Here’s what to watch for.

Friday, 8 p.m.

Virginia at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #UVAvsVT

Few rivalries in the country have been as lopsided as this one, with the Hokies winning 10 in a row and 14 of the last 15. But this year’s matchup feels entirely different. UVa is coming off an emphatic win over Miami, a win that helped save Mike London's job. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is coming off one of its most embarrassing losses in history, a 6-3 defeat to Wake Forest. Changes on the Hokies’ staff appear all but certain at this point. To add to the intrigue, both teams are playing for bowl eligibility, with the winner getting that crucial sixth win and the loser on to what promises to be a tumultuous offseason.

Saturday, noon

Georgia Tech at Georgia, SEC Network, #GTvsUGA

The Yellow Jackets toppled Georgia in Athens in 2008 in Paul Johnson’s first season as coach, and it appeared that perhaps the power structure in the state was beginning to change, but in the five years since, it’s been all UGA. In last year’s game, Tech led 20-0 in the second quarter only to lose 41-34 in double overtime. This year, the Jackets’ players are hoping to finally get some revenge, and with Tech playing its best football of the year, an upset is certainly possible. Georgia fell to Florida last month when it couldn’t stop the ground game, and Tech figures to employ the same philosophy this weekend.

Kentucky at Louisville, ESPN2, #UKvsLOU

There’s plenty on the line for both sides in the ACC’s newest rivalry game against the SEC. Kentucky has lost five straight, but a win here could get Mark Stoops’ squad bowl eligible. Louisville’s offense is finally clicking, as Reggie Bonnafon looks comfortable in his role as starter. A win for the Cardinals would keep them in the hunt for an Orange Bowl berth. But, of course, state bragging rights may top all of those goals.

South Carolina at Clemson, ESPN, #SCvsCLEM

Like Virginia and Georgia Tech, Clemson has been on the wrong side of a lopsided rivalry in recent years. Dabo Swinney beat South Carolina to secure the head-coaching job at Clemson in 2008, but he hasn’t been able to repeat the feat since. But freshman QB Deshaun Watson could return for this one, and he offers hope. Add to that a South Carolina defense that offers little in the way of a pass rush and has been gouged repeatedly this year, and things certainly look a bit more positive for the Tigers. It will be up to Vic Beasley & Co. to quell the South Carolina ground game, but Clemson fans are clearly hoping this is the year the Gamecocks’ run comes to an end.

12:30 p.m.

Syracuse at Boston College, ESPN3, #CUSEvsBC

Tyler Murphy & Co. nearly upended defending champ Florida State last week in Tallahassee, but fell just short. Whether the emotions of a close loss in a big game carry over may be the biggest factor in this matchup. Syracuse is reeling, with an offense that has mustered just 40 points in its last four games -- all losses. BC’s defense is one of the more underrated units in the country, which won’t make it easy for the Orange to bust out of their offensive slump, and Murphy’s big-play ability could be the spark for BC’s seventh win of the season.

NC State at North Carolina, ESPN3, #NCSTvsUNC

North Carolina had plenty to celebrate last week, knocking off rival Duke for the first time in three years, taking back the Victory Bell and earning bowl eligibility. Can the Tar Heels keep that momentum going against another rival in the regular-season finale? UNC has won four of five and played its best defensive game of the year a week ago, while NC State hasn’t beaten a bowl-eligible team since its opener against Georgia Southern. This could be a nice feather in North Carolina’s cap, but a win for NC State would be a signature victory for Dave Doeren.

3:30 p.m.

Florida at Florida State, ESPN, #UFvsFSU

It’s been exactly two years since Florida State last lost a game, and that one came at home against rival Florida. The two programs have trended in opposite directions since, with Jimbo Fisher poised for a run at a second straight national championship, while Will Muschamp will be coaching his final game for the Gators after resigning two weeks ago. Still, FSU hasn’t shown a propensity for blowing away anyone this season, and Florida has the ground game to frustrate the Seminoles’ D and the secondary to test Jameis Winston. A decade ago, Ron Zook upended FSU after he’d been axed by Florida. Muschamp will try to do the same this time around.

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Duke, ESPNU, #WAKEvsDUKE

The record certainly won’t wow anyone this season, but Wake Forest has, in some ways, been one of the most impressive teams in the ACC. With huge holes across the offense, points have been at a premium all season, and the Deacons knew going into the year it would be an uphill battle. But they’ve continued to fight all season, which is a tribute to the work being done behind the scenes by head coach Dave Clawson. The work paid off with a 6-3 win over Virginia Tech last week -- Wake’s first conference victory in more than a year -- but the test is much tougher this week. Duke enters this game riding a two-game losing streak, and David Cutcliffe will surely want to send his seniors out with a win in their last home game.

Pittsburgh at Miami, ESPN2, #PITTvsMIA

James Conner's availability looks doubtful, which means it’ll be up to Chad Voytik and Tyler Boyd to spark Pitt’s offense. The bigger question, however, may be whether Miami is motivated to finish up the season. Last week’s game against Virginia was as listless as the Hurricanes have looked all year, and another poor showing in the regular-season finale could ratchet up those hot-seat rumors for Al Golden. There’s no question which side wins this game on paper, but with Pitt playing for a bowl game and Miami simply playing out the string, motivation could be the differentiating factor.

ACC Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:30
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Jared Shanker: In college football, there is no denying emotion plays a pivotal role, and playing for a coach and a bowl can be the tipping point for a team hoping to rally. No doubt Virginia will have no shortage of motivation against its in-state rival, but the Cavaliers are also the better team. Greyson Lambert is improving, and the Virginia defense is every bit as good as the one in Blacksburg. Virginia needs to limit mistakes, as the Cavs turned it over eight times during a four-game skid. The Hokies are struggling to create turnovers, though, which plays into UVa's favor. Mike London returns UVa to a bowl. Virginia 20, Virginia Tech 10

David Hale: If we’re slaves to whatever happened most recently, then Virginia Tech certainly looks like a lost cause. But let’s think bigger picture. The Hokies know what’s at stake here: A 22-year bowl streak, state bragging rights in a rivalry they’ve owned for a decade, perhaps the future of their longtime head coach. Is this a game where Virginia Tech is a no-show? No way. The Wake Forest game was brutal, but lessons were certainly learned. Brenden Motley will get a longer look at quarterback, and his mobility can help offset the Virginia pass rush. The ground game has actually looked better with J.C. Coleman the past two weeks. And while the Hokies clearly overlooked Wake Forest, that won’t be the case against rival Virginia. Plus, let’s not forget that, in spite of the record, Virginia Tech still features one of the most potent defenses in the country -- and it’ll give Lambert and the UVA offense fits. Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14

Andrea Adelson: The Jackets and Bulldogs are running the ball extremely well this season, so both teams should be able to get some yards on the ground. The key in this game is going to be in the turnover category. Both teams have been excellent at taking the ball away this season. While Georgia Tech has converted 24 takeaways into 116 points, Georgia has allowed only six total points off its own turnovers. There is going to be quite the battle there. Given the way Georgia Tech has played during its winning streak, the Jackets will pull out a close one after one defensive score. Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31

Matt Fortuna: Much like Georgia Tech, Georgia has proven its rushing attack can keep up the pace no matter who is in the backfield, as we've all seen what has happened even without the ridiculously gifted Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense has greatly improved under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this season, too, ranking 13th nationally. Has it shored up the loose ends that Florida exposed by repeatedly running on it earlier this month, to the tune of 418 yards? The Yellow Jackets' attack is different, sure, but the Dawgs have too much pride to fall to another rival, especially as they play for a chance at the SEC title game next week. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34

Shanker: If South Carolina manages to pull off the upset, Dabo Swinney will be hearing about it for as long as Steve Spurrier is hanging around college football. This is an absolute must-win game for Clemson, but dark clouds are already starting to form with star freshman Deshaun Watson still listed as day-to-day with a sprained knee. If Cole Stoudt starts, will he be able to take advantage of a vulnerable South Carolina defense? The Tigers have the No. 1 defense, but South Carolina is No. 18 in scoring against Power 5 competition. That means the Gamecocks could score just enough, and with Stoudt at quarterback "just enough" might be 17 points. South Carolina 17, Clemson 14

Adelson: The Tigers have relied on their defense all season, and will do it again to finally break their long losing streak to South Carolina. Clemson ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense and will make life difficult for Dylan Thompson, who is not having the type of season anybody expected. While the prospects on offense look shaky if Watson is out, Clemson has won squeakers this season with an inconsistent Stoudt behind center. As long as Clemson takes care of the football, the defense will lead the victory. Clemson 17, South Carolina 14

Hale: Strictly from a matchup standpoint, Pitt doesn’t have a distinct edge, but this game may be a question of motivation. The storyline for Miami is a familiar one right now. Just like last year, the season built to Florida State, and the Hurricanes came up short. Last year, Miami responded by losing four of six to close out the season. This year, the follow-up to the FSU game was perhaps Miami’s worst performance of the season, which certainly bodes well for Pitt. On the flip side, the Panthers are desperately seeking win No. 6 to get bowl eligible, so there’s no question which team has more to play for. Add the fact that Chad Voytik is playing his best football of the season now, and Pitt is in position to move the ball even if James Conner isn’t at 100 percent. Pitt 21, Miami 20

Fortuna: Pitt is the more desperate team here, fighting to extend its season and make a bowl game for the third straight season under third-year coach Paul Chryst. But the Panthers could be without Conner, which will put much more pressure on Voytik and the passing attack. Is Miami's defense ready to take care of business after consecutive letdowns? Its offense should not be a problem in this one. Miami 38, Pitt 24

Adelson: Everybody expects Florida to play an emotional game for outgoing coach Will Muschamp. That should serve the Gators well in the early going, and they will have opportunities to establish the run against a Florida State defensive front that has had its up and downs this season. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves and company will throw some different looks at Jameis Winston and force him out of his comfort zone. But ultimately, Winston will do what he always does -- find a way to win a close game. Florida State 28, Florida 27

More unanimous picks

Syracuse at Boston College: The Eagles were the latest team to nearly upend Florida State last week, but that hasn’t always been a recipe for success afterward. It will be interesting to see if the physical and emotional toll of that loss carries over, but Syracuse certainly hasn’t been playing good football either. BC 33, Syracuse 13

Kentucky at Louisville: The ACC’s newest rivalry game may not offer much in the way of fireworks in Year 1. Reggie Bonnafon finally looks comfortable running Bobby Petrino’s offense, and Louisville is still fighting for an Orange Bowl berth. Kentucky is desperate to get win No. 6, but the Wildcats have lost five straight. Louisville 24, Kentucky 20

NC State at North Carolina: Ready for some offensive fireworks? Both of these teams are allowing an average of more than 400 yards per game to FBS foes, and both have potentially explosive offenses. That should make for a fun rivalry matchup to end the regular season, but UNC gets the edge after playing easily its most complete game of the season last week against Duke. North Carolina 45, NC State 33

Wake Forest at Duke: Last week’s win over Virginia Tech was a fitting moment for a Wake Forest team that has continued to fight in spite of adverse circumstances all season, and the Deacons' D is legit. Meanwhile, Duke is reeling from two straight losses. This game may end up close, but it’s still hard to see Wake pulling off the upset in two straight. Duke 24, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 66-20
Adelson: 66-20
Fortuna: 65-21
Hale: 65-21

ACC bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
PM ET
North Carolina earned bowl eligibility and dealt the final blow to Duke's Orange Bowl chances in Week 13, while Pitt and Virginia each kept bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech had a shot to wrap up win No. 6, but fell to Wake Forest in ugly fashion. So with one week left, the ACC is guaranteed at least 11 bowl-eligible teams (including Notre Dame) with as many as 12 possible.

College Football Playoff: Florida State*
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Notre Dame*
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville*
Belk Bowl: Clemson*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke*
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina*
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College*
BITCOIN Bowl: NC State*

Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC's bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year's Six bowl game.

* Bowl eligible

ACC Upset Watch: Week 14

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
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Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Here are the men whose play stood out above all others during another wild weekend in the ACC:

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams: Williams turned in another outstanding game, keying a 45-20 rout of favored rival Duke on Thursday. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, adding 98 rushing yards and two more scores on 21 carries. His 374 total yards gave Williams 3,499 total yards on the season, breaking Bryn Renner's single-season UNC record (3,394). Williams also has 32 touchdowns he has been responsible for this season, which also breaks Renner's single-season record (29 in 2012).

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: Greene hauled in eight passes for 106 yards, and FSU needed every single one of them to extend its winning streak to 27 games and keep its repeat national title hopes alive. The Seminoles beat Boston College, 20-17, and Greene etched his name into the school record books Saturday, as his final catch helped him break Ron Sellers' FSU record for career receiving yards. Greene now has 3,613 career receiving yards, and the senior now has a personal-best 75 catches on the season. He still has at least three games left in his Noles career, too.

Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee: When you engineer a defensive effort that holds a team scoreless in regulation -- one that ends with your first league win of the season, no less -- you get recognition here. Lee, a sophomore, had a game-high 12 total tackles, including three for loss (2.5 sacks) and one forced fumble. The Demon Deacons shocked Virginia Tech in double overtime, winning 6-3.

Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff: Radcliff ran wild in the second half, carrying the ball 15 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in Louisville's 31-28 win over Notre Dame. He finished the day with 17 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown, the leader of a Cardinals rushing attack that set the tone for the day, finishing with 229 yards on the ground.

Clemson defense: There are too many people to name here, so the Tigers' defense will have to share this award. Yes, it was against Georgia State, but Clemson had nine different players record a tackle for loss, and three different players record an interception in the 28-0 win. The Tigers held Georgia State to 155 total yards of offense, the fifth different opponent they have held under 200 yards this season. This was also Clemson's second shutout of the season, marking its first multi-shutout season since 1998.

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