NCF Nation: Brandon Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That comfort level didn’t manifest overnight, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When you’re starting, it’s about making sure that everybody around knows why you’re quarterback,” Brissett said, “and make sure you’re being an example to look up to.”

ACC predictions: Week 13

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

On to the picks!

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

AA picks: North Carolina 40, Old Dominion 17

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

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

AA picks: Duke 35, Wake Forest 20

HD's pick: Duke 24, Wake Forest 21

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

AA picks: Clemson 56, The Citadel 3

HD's pick: Clemson 45, The Citadel 10

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

AA picks: Miami 28, Virginia 27

HD's pick: Miami 34, Virginia 24

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

AA picks: NC State 28, East Carolina 24

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

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

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Pitt 23

HD's pick: Syracuse 21, Pitt 17

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

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

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

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

AA picks: Florida State 65, Idaho 0

HD's pick: FSU 72, Idaho 3

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

AA picks: BC 24, Maryland 21

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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There was a bit of shuffling in the middle this week, and it’s getting more difficult to use head-to-head results to determine the pecking order. The bottom, though, remains status quo with only two teams still winless in league play. Here’s how the ACC stacks up with just four weeks remaining:

1. Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC; LW: No. 1) – The Noles left no doubt they were the better team in their 41-14 win over Miami on Saturday, further stating their case as a national title contender. With Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and Florida left on the schedule, the most difficult stretch is now behind FSU. The Noles have scored at least 40 points in every game this season.

2. Clemson (8-1, 6-1; LW: No. 3) – The Tigers played arguably their most complete game of the season in a 59-10 drubbing of Virginia. Quarterback Tajh Boyd became the ACC's career leader in touchdowns responsible for, and he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Clemson has a bye week to prepare for a tricky game against Georgia Tech, which has won three straight and has historically given the Tigers some headaches.

3. Miami (7-1, 3-1; LW: No. 2) – Not only did Miami lose the game, the Canes also lost star running back Duke Johnson to an injury. The good news for Miami is that it is still in the lead to win the Coastal Division. The task for the Canes now is to shake off the disappointment and realize that a rematch with Florida State is still possible. First, they have to get past the Hokies on Saturday in a game that will either further distance Miami from the pack, or cause more confusion in the division race.

4. Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2; LW: No. 6) – The Jackets became bowl eligible with their 21-10 win over Pitt, a performance in which the defense was the highlight with five sacks. Georgia Tech is playing well now, but it’s probably too little, too late. The Jackets likely played themselves out of the Coastal Division race earlier with back-to-back losses against Virginia Tech and Miami. It’s only going to get tougher with a road trip to Death Valley looming.

5. Duke (6-2, 2-2; LW: No. 4) – The bowl-eligible Blue Devils had a bye week to revel in their monumental win at Virginia Tech. The next step is winning the unofficial state championship. Duke hosts NC State this weekend, and ends the season with back-to-back road trips against Wake Forest and North Carolina. Every game left on the schedule -- including Miami -- is winnable.

6. Boston College (4-4, 2-3; LW: No. 10) – The Eagles have been oh-so-close to a breakthrough win this fall, and they finally knocked the door down against Virginia Tech. BC has established its identity as a disciplined, power running team with a determined defense, and it’s been a remarkable turnaround in the first season under coach Steve Addazio.

7. Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2; LW: No. 5) – The Hokies took two steps back in the past two weeks, and now face what could be an elimination game in the Coastal Division race. After back-to-back losses to Duke and BC, Virginia Tech is now in a must-win situation on the road against Miami. The Hokies have turned it over eight times in the past two games, though, and on Saturday, the defense didn’t help.

8. Pitt (4-4, 2-3; LW: No. 9) – The Panthers’ 21-10 loss to Georgia Tech significantly decreased their chances of playing for the ACC title, but their bowl hopes are still alive, and they’ve got a big game against Notre Dame looming. Once again, the pass protection was an issue. Keeping quarterback Tom Savage on his feet will be critical in becoming bowl eligible.

9. North Carolina (3-5, 2-3; LW: No. 12) – The Tar Heels helped redeem themselves from an otherwise disappointing season with a 27-19 win at NC State, the program’s first win in Raleigh since 2005. UNC is likely out of the ACC race, but the Tar Heels can still salvage the season by reaching six wins.

10. Syracuse (4-4, 2-2; LW: No. 11) – It was a defensive struggle en route to a 13-0 home win over Wake Forest, but the Orange kept its bowl hopes alive. Syracuse faces a tough two weeks, though, as the Orange play back-to-back road games against Maryland and Florida State.

11. Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4; LW: No. 7) – The Deacs were devastated not only by the loss, but also by the season-ending injury to top playmaker and wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who broke his collarbone in the first quarter and will miss four to six weeks. Wake’s bowl hopes are now hanging by a thread, as the Deacs need two more wins and still have to face Florida State, Duke and Vanderbilt.

12. Maryland (5-3, 1-3; LW: No. 8 ) – The Terps had a much-needed bye week to rest and heal, and coach Randy Edsall said last week he expects to have more players healthy for Saturday’s game against Syracuse. Maryland has been just one win away from bowl eligibility for three weeks now, but the Terps have a good chance to get it done at home this weekend.

13. NC State (3-5, 0-5; LW: No. 13) – The hits just keep on coming for the beleaguered Pack, which dropped to 0-5 after their loss to rival North Carolina – the team’s fifth straight ACC loss under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Doeren called a regrettable fake punt, and quarterback Brandon Mitchell threw two picks. There was plenty of blame to go around.

14. Virginia (2-7, 0-5; LW: No. 14) – The Hoos were absolutely rolled over at home by Clemson in a 59-10 loss. Clemson racked up 610 total yards, and Virginia has now lost six straight games. UVa has back-to-back road games against North Carolina and Miami before ending the season at home against rival Virginia Tech.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
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With only Syracuse on a bye this week, there will be plenty to keep an eye on in the conference. Here’s a look at what to watch in Week 9, in no particular order:

1. Florida State flashback: All eyes will be on the pregame scene in Tallahassee, where former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden will make his first return to Doak Campbell Stadium since he was ousted following the 2009 season. Bowden will plant the famous spear at midfield, and nearly 400 former players are expected to attend the No. 2-ranked Seminoles’ game against NC State. "There's no nerves," Bowden told ESPN.com’s David Hale. "I'm excited about it, getting to see a lot of people."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Lance King/Getty ImagesBrandon Mitchell has been out since the opener for NC State.
2. Brandon Mitchell's return: While Florida State will be celebrating the return of its legendary coach, the Wolfpack will be celebrating the return of its injured starting quarterback. Mitchell broke his left foot in the season opener and hasn’t played since. He won the job over Pete Thomas this preseason, and his athleticism seemed to fit first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle offense well. He’ll face one of the toughest defenses in the country, though, on Saturday.

3. Wake’s hopes at an upset: The Demon Deacons are on a roll, having won back-to-back Atlantic Division games, and while the Canes lead the series 7-3, all three of Wake’s wins have come at Miami. Wake is looking to snap a six-game losing streak against ranked teams -- and Saturday is the 67th anniversary of the program’s win over No. 4 Tennessee, the highest-ranked team Wake has ever defeated. If the Deacs can continue to get the ball to receiver Michael Campanaro and play stingy defense, they could have a chance. Especially considering …

4. Miami’s ball security: You’ve heard it a million times this week. Miami has turned it over 12 times in the past three weeks. The Hurricanes the only team in the country to have at least four turnovers in three consecutive games this season and the first since East Carolina in 2011. Miami has also had four red-zone turnovers in its past three games. Meanwhile, Wake’s defense forced three turnovers in the Deacs’ victory over Maryland last week. Speaking of the Terps, watch out for …

5. Maryland’s quarterback controversy: It’s C.J. Brown OR Caleb Rowe listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart for Saturday’s game against Clemson, and coach Randy Edsall has played coy about Brown’s status since last week. Edsall said the indecision on his starter is health-related, not performance-related, but wouldn’t specify what’s wrong with Brown. Brown struggled in last week’s loss at Wake Forest, and Edsall said it was because of an injury unrelated to the concussion Brown suffered against Florida State. Stay tuned for which QB will be leading the Terps’ offense against a stingy Clemson D.

6. UNC’s run defense: Miami gashed the Tar Heels for 234 yards on the ground last week -- and that was with their leading rusher, Duke Johnson, sidelined for three quarters and four turnovers from the Canes. Boston College makes its living on the running game, led by senior Andre Williams, who leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (139.7).

7. Clemson’s rebound: Last week’s 51-14 home loss to Florida State was humbling and devastating to the Tigers. It knocked them out of the national championship picture, all but ruined quarterback Tajh Boyd's chances at winning the Heisman Trophy, and put them behind the Seminoles in the ACC race. How will the Tigers respond on the road? They’ve got more talent than the depleted Terps, but emotion could be a factor early.

8. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Veteran cornerback Antone Exum is expected to finally return for Saturday’s home game against Duke, more than eight months after he had offseason surgery to repair his ACL and a bone fracture. Exum was cleared Sept. 30, but he and the staff have played it cautious. Senior CB Kyle Fuller has broken up 10 passes in seven games and ranks fourth in the nation in passes defended (1.71 per game). They will come in handy against quarterback Duke, which is averaging 269 passing yards per game.

9. Replacement receivers: The ACC will be missing three of its top receivers, with Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett all out with injuries. Levern Jacobs will step in at the slot position in place of Diggs, and redshirt freshman Amba Etta-Tawo will take over Long’s spot. With Dorsett out at Miami, that likely means an increased role for Malcolm Lewis, who is listed as a backup at two spots, and true freshman Stacy Coley, who is listed as a co-starter at wide receiver, a starting kick returner and co-starter at punt returner.

10. BC WR Alex Amidon: The Eagles can do more than just run the ball, and Amidon needs just 144 receiving yards to become BC’s all-time leading pass receiver. He has three 100-plus yard receiving games this season and a school-record 10 for his 39-game collegiate career.

Injury impact: ACC

October, 24, 2013
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It’s that time of year, when injuries can be devastating to a team and even change the outcome of a game. Here’s a look at which three teams in the ACC have been most affected by injuries this season:

1. NC STATE: The Pack lost starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell in the season opener when he broke his left foot. He is expected to return for Saturday’s game at Florida State, but the Pack has also been missing two key linemen in OT Rob Crisp, and DE Darryl Cato-Bishop. Safety Jarvis Byrd also suffered his third torn ACL of his career.

2. MARYLAND: The Terps took their biggest hit at FSU when quarterback C.J. Brown was sidelined with a concussion and missed the following game at Virginia, but they’ve also since lost their top two receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and defensive back Dexter McDougle are also out for the season.

3. SYRACUSE: The Orange lost starting linebacker Dyshawn Davis to an ankle injury for the second half of the NC State game and last week’s game against Georgia Tech, defensive tackle John Raymon suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 56-0 loss to Georgia Tech, tailback George Morris II also missed last week with an injury, and three-year starting CB Keon Lyn is out for the season with a lower body injury. The Orange also lost kicker Ross Krautman in late September to a season-ending hip injury. The bye week comes at a good time for Cuse.
Brandon Mitchell stayed at home Saturday night. He spent his second bye weekend of the season watching Florida State's primetime showcase at Clemson. He had recorded the game, too, so he watched it again later. He noticed the speed of the Seminoles' defense, realized how tight the timing must be with his receivers and looked for hints, any hints, the unit was giving off that he could potentially exploit the next time he took the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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There was a definite shake-up in the ACC hierarchy this weekend, as No. 5-ranked Florida State went to Death Valley and humbled No. 3-ranked Clemson 51-14 on Saturday night. The Seminoles, led by their unflappable 19-year-old quarterback, Jameis Winston, dominated the Tigers from start to finish. For the first time this season, the ACC has a new No. 1:

1. Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC, last week: 2): The defense was the storyline, as the Seminoles flustered veteran quarterback Tajh Boyd into what was easily the worst outing of his career. He threw two picks and just one touchdown and completed only 46 percent of his passes. Florida State converted two turnovers into touchdowns early and never looked back. The Noles host NC State this weekend, but this Florida State team is light years better than the one that was upset by the Wolfpack a season ago. There’s not even a hint of an upset brewing in Tallahassee.

2. Miami (6-0, 2-0, LW: 3): The Hurricanes didn’t look like a top-10 team on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., where they needed a game-winning touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds left to beat a North Carolina team that has now sunk to 1-5. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw four interceptions and the Canes lost two of their top playmakers -- receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Duke Johnson -- to injuries. Miami found a way to win, though, and only Wake Forest stands between the Canes and their showdown with the rival Noles in two weeks. Expect both to be undefeated for that game.

3. Clemson (6-1, 4-1, LW: 1) : If Clemson had lost to FSU in a close, hard-fought game, it wouldn’t have taken so much criticism, but because the Tigers lost so convincingly, it’s clear the gap between Florida State and Clemson was as wide as the lopsided score indicated. Clemson’s chances at a national title were devastated, along with Boyd’s Heisman Trophy hopes, all in four quarters. The spotlight has shifted to Florida State while the Tigers try to regroup on Saturday at Maryland.

4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0, LW: 4): The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for Duke on Saturday, but they have quietly continued to work their way up the conference standings this fall. Quarterback Logan Thomas has made significant strides and cut down on his interceptions, and the defense continues to look like one of the best in the country. The matchup in Miami should determine the Coastal division winner this fall, and if the Canes continue to turn it over at this disconcerting rate, it’s the Hokies’ title to lose.

5. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2, LW: 11): The Yellow Jackets played as if they had something to prove on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak with a complete pummeling of Syracuse. Georgia Tech scored seven rushing touchdowns in a 56-0 rout of the Orange. It was the program’s biggest margin of victory in an ACC game. The Jackets need to win three of their next five to become bowl eligible, and a road trip to struggling Virginia is up next.

6. Pittsburgh (4-2, 2-2, LW: 6): It wasn’t exactly a flawless performance in a 35-24 win against Old Dominion, but the Panthers took care of business, and their only two losses are to Florida State and Virginia Tech, two of the top teams in the ACC right now. The Panthers got what they needed from Isaac Bennett, who ran for a career-high 240 yards and three touchdowns. They’re going to have to sharpen their game, though, for back-to-back road trips to Navy and Georgia Tech.

7. Duke (5-2, 1-2, LW: 7): The Blue Devils didn’t quit on the road, and they’re just one win away from bowl eligibility for the second straight season under coach David Cutcliffe. Duke overcame a 22-0 deficit at Virginia to scrape its way back to a 35-22 win. It was a remarkable comeback by Duke and an utter meltdown by the Hoos. Duke has now won three straight heading into Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.

8. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2, LW: 10): The Deacs have hit their stride offensively, and receiver Michael Campanaro continues to be the face of the team. Wake’s defense, though, was a highlight in the its win over Maryland, and the team has helped keep its bowl hopes alive. Wake Forest will face a tough test this week, as it has to travel to undefeated Miami.

9. Maryland (5-2, 1-2, LW: 5): Not only do the Terps seem to have a quarterback controversy between starter C.J. Brown and backup Caleb Rowe, but they’ve also got injuries to two of their top receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Brown was benched in the loss to Wake Forest and replaced by Rowe, but neither of them could overcome a gritty performance by the Deacs’ veteran defense. What once seemed like a guaranteed return to the postseason has now become a shrinking window with no margin for error.

10. Boston College (3-3, 1-2, LW: 9): The Eagles have lost three of their past four but have developed a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the ACC nonetheless. Two of those losses have come to Atlantic division leaders FSU and Clemson. The Eagles had a bye week to prepare for their road trip to North Carolina, and, considering how poorly UNC has played this season, the Eagles have a good shot at their second league win.

11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 8): It’s been an unpleasant introduction into the ACC for the Orange, to say the least. Georgia Tech put on a clinic against Cuse on Saturday, and the defense went into shutdown mode. Terrel Hunt has struggled, completing 43.1 percent of his passes against league opponents. The Orange have a much-needed bye week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

12. NC State (3-3, 0-3, LW: 12): Like BC, the Pack has lost three of its past four. The difference is that NC State is still winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell is expected to return for Saturday’s game at Florida State, his first time playing since he broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener.

13. North Carolina (1-5, 0-3, LW: 13): The Tar Heels got their best defensive performance of the season on Thursday night against Miami, and tight end Eric Ebron put on quite an audition for the NFL scouts in attendance, but the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the run and are now off to their worst start since 2006. UNC has lost four straight and will try to rebound on Saturday at home against BC.

14. Virginia (2-5, 0-3, LW: 14): After squandering a 22-point lead at home against Duke on Saturday, Mike London’s career is seemingly hanging by a thread. Whether the Hoos can win another game is a legitimate question, and, despite the administration’s continued support for London, there doesn’t seem to be any way he could survive a 2-10 season.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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The real fireworks come next week, when Clemson and Florida State face off in Death Valley in what figures to be the most compelling ACC game of the season. But there's a lot on the line this week, too, as the Tigers try to stay unbeaten and a host of once-promising seasons around the league are in need of salvaging after bad losses a week ago. Here are a few storylines to watch in Week 7.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaFor Boston College to have success against Clemson, it will likely need another big day from Andre Williams (right).
Clemson's focus: The Tigers have already been through one "game of the year" scenario, but that came in the opener against Georgia. Clemson had the luxury of planning well in advance for that one. To get to its second marquee matchup Oct. 19 against Florida State, however, Clemson still needs to get past Boston College. The Eagles would love for Clemson to look ahead, setting up a classic trap-game scenario. BC already gave FSU a major challenge two weeks ago, and it has proved it's capable of playing with the ACC's best. But if the Tigers are focused, they'll be tough to beat, and so far this week, Dabo Swinney, Tajh Boyd & Co. have made a point of avoiding questions about the Seminoles and making certain Boston College is the priority.

Williams' workload: Boston College has already won more games in 2013 than it did all of last season, and a big part of that success can be pinned on running back Andre Williams, who has been a workhorse. Williams leads the nation in rushing yards per game (153.6) and attempts per game (26.6). Only seven tailbacks have averaged that many carries over a full season in the past five years. Last week was Williams' finest performance to date. He carried 30 times for 263 yards and five touchdowns -- his second 200-yard game of the season. While Clemson figures to make things tough for BC this week, the Tigers' rush defense ranks 12th in the ACC, allowing an average of 171 yards per game on the ground.

Vad Lee's struggles: The season began with such optimism for Vad Lee and Georgia Tech, but after losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, in which Lee turned the ball over five times (three interceptions, two fumbles), the mood has changed. Last week, buzz circulated that backup quarterback Justin Thomas might supplant Lee as the starter, though that proved to be more of a social media rumor than an actual game plan for Paul Johnson, and when Thomas did get his shot against Miami, he didn't look much better. Still, Lee's struggles have directly correlated to Georgia Tech's consecutive losses, and the fans are getting restless. He'll have a chance to right the ship this week against BYU, which ranks 24th nationally in total defense.

Maryland's recovery: How does a team off to its best start in more than a decade recover from a 63-0 shellacking? That's the question facing Randy Edsall and the Terrapins this week. After they were pummeled by Florida State, the test figures to be a bit easier this week when Maryland hosts Virginia. The Cavaliers have scored just 59 points in their four games against FBS foes -- or four fewer than FSU scored just last week. Still, Maryland came out of last week's loss banged up, both physically and mentally. Whether QB C.J. Brown (concussion) will play remains a question, and just how focused the Terps will be after such a crushing loss will likely be a major factor in how well they rebound.

Pitt receivers vs. Hokies secondary: Believe it or not, the Panthers have actually beaten Virginia Tech -- their former Big East rival -- in four straight games, including last year's 35-17 victory. While the Hokies enter the game riding high and in command in the Coastal Division, Pitt still controls its own destiny in the division and has won three straight games. The Virginia Tech defense has been lauded as perhaps the nation's best, but Pitt boasts the ACC's top receiving tandem in Tyler Boyd and Devin Street -- one of just three sets of teammates in the nation averaging 100 yards per game -- giving the Hokies' talented secondary its biggest test to date.

Thomas' resurrection: Through the troubles of 2012 and the offensive struggles to open 2013, no one faced more criticism at Virginia Tech than QB Logan Thomas. Some of it was warranted. From the start of last season through Week 4 of this year, Thomas completed just 50 percent of his throws, averaged 6.5 yards per attempt and had 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. But Thomas has looked like a star the past two weeks. He has completed better than 65 percent of his throws in consecutive games for the first time in his career, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, thrown four TDs and hasn't thrown an interception.

Duke's defense: The Blue Devils have allowed 30 points or more in three straight games, giving up an average of 6.4 yards per play during that stretch. That has overshadowed some solid offensive performances, as quarterback Brandon Connette has racked up 11 touchdowns in his past two outings. Duke gets Navy this week, and the Midshipmen rank eighth in the nation in rushing. When Duke faced a similar style of offense at Georgia Tech three weeks ago, the defense allowed 344 yards on the ground. The Blue Devils hope they've shored things up during a bye week, and Duke has won its past two meetings against Navy.

Virginia's offense: Against FBS teams, Virginia is averaging just 3.73 yards per play -- the third-worst rate in the nation. The passing game has been at the forefront of the struggles. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in passing offense, and QB David Watford's 37.5 adjusted QBR ranks 100th nationally. In a loss last week, the offense coughed up four turnovers, resulting in 17 Ball State points. On the upside, however, Virginia did put up 27 points in last week's loss, offering some hope that if it can cut down on the mistakes, things are headed in the right direction. UVA will get its shot to prove it against a Maryland defense that just coughed up 63 points to FSU last week.

Mitchell time in Raleigh?: Brandon Mitchell returned to the practice field and resumed throwing for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot in NC State's opener. It's still unclear whether he'll play Saturday against Syracuse, but the Wolfpack could clearly use a jolt after a frustrating 28-13 loss at Wake Forest. More than getting their starting QB back, however, the Wolfpack need to shore up a lot of details that eluded them against Wake, Dave Doeren said. He challenged his team to cut penalties and focus on fundamentals in this week's game as NC State tries to avoid an 0-3 start in ACC play.

Hunt's second chance: Optimism was ubiquitous and expectations were high as Terrel Hunt readied for his first ACC game last week against No. 3 Clemson. The outcome couldn't have been much worse. The talented Syracuse QB completed just 33 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. Still, Hunt insists the performance hasn't rattled him and he'll make the necessary changes for a rebound performance this week against NC State. Prior to the Clemson game, Hunt had been 33-for-43 passing for 468 yards and accounted for nine touchdowns without an INT.

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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Kudos to Heather for correctly picking Ball State to upset Virginia last week. Neither one of us thought Wake Forest would beat NC State, but the Deacs proved us wrong. So did Florida State and Clemson. What were we thinking picking such close games?

Heather won the week, going 6-1, while Andrea went 5-2. AA still has a one-game lead over HD in the overall standings. Now on to the picks!


Pitt (3-1, 2-1) at No. 24 Virginia Tech (5-1 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #PITTvsVT. We have talked all week about Pitt's four-game winning streak in the series, dating back to their days as Big East rivals. But that streak is going to come to an end in Blacksburg. The matchup between the standout Pitt receivers and the terrific Virginia Tech secondary is one to watch, but here is where the Hokies have the major advantage -- up front. The Pitt offensive line is coming off its worst performance of the season and now has to face one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC. Virginia Tech has 19 sacks on the season and leads the league in rushing defense.

AA's pick: Virginia Tech 28, Pitt 17

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 21, Pitt 17


Navy (3-1) at Duke (3-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NAVYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils have a few advantage going into this game. They already have faced a similar-style team in Georgia Tech, and they got an extra week to prepare. Unfortunately for them, they did end up losing to the Jackets, a team that has since dropped two straight. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is playing extremely well for the Midshipmen right now, and their defense is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Whether quarterback Anthony Boone returns or not, AA is calling for the upset.

AA's pick: Navy 35, Duke 34

HD’s pick: Given the extra week and the game against Georgia Tech earlier, there’s no excuse for the Blue Devils not to be prepared for this one. They’re averaging 38 points at home and should be able to expose weaknesses in Navy’s run defense. This is the kind of game the program needs to win to get to the postseason on a routine basis. Duke 31, Navy 28


Virginia (2-3, 0-1) at Maryland (4-1, 0-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #UVAvsMD. We will get an update on Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown later today, when the Terps are required to release their injury report. Coach Randy Edsall has been mum all week on whether Brown (concussion) would play. Whether he does or not, Edsall is going to have to get his team to forget about what happened in a 63-0 drubbing at Florida State. Reports have said that the Maryland offensive line tipped its plays based on its stances. The good news for the Terps is they are facing a reeling Virginia team that has lost three straight to FBS teams. In four games against FBS opponents, the Hoos are averaging 14.8 points.

AA's pick: Maryland 21, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Maryland 24, Virginia 10


Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) at NC State (3-2, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsNCST. Both teams come into the game off disheartening losses, but probably more so for NC State. The Wolfpack were expected to beat Wake Forest, but managed their lowest scoring and yardage output of the season. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell could return, but even if he sits out another week, getting running back Matt Dayes and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling back will help. NC State has a Top 20 rushing defense, and that will be a huge key to slowing down the Orange, who racked up over 300 yards on the ground last week against Clemson.

AA's pick: NC State 28, Syracuse 24

HD’s pick: NC State 31, Syracuse 21

Boston College (3-2, 1-1) at No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0), ABC/ESPN2. #BCvsCLEM. We can't say enough about the job coach Steve Addazio and his staff have done in transforming one of the worst-run offenses in the nation a year ago into a group that has produced the country's leading rusher in yards per game in Andre Williams (153.6). If there was one area where the Tigers struggled last week in a blowout win over Syracuse, it was stopping the run. We don't anticipate the same mistakes this week. Boston College is better, but not good enough to beat Clemson.

AA's pick: Clemson 40, Boston College 13

HD’s pick: Clemson 42, Boston College 17


Georgia Tech (3-2) at BYU (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #GTvsBYU. The Jackets have lost two straight after starting 3-0 and now have to travel to play BYU, a team that embarrassed them last year in Atlanta 41-17. Georgia Tech did not score an offensive touchdown in that game. So far this season, Vad Lee has not done much since his terrific performance against Duke. Of the six turnovers the Jackets have had in their last two losses, Lee is responsible for five of them (three interceptions, two fumbles). Tough to see improvement this week against one of the better defenses this team will face all year. It's the third straight week Georgia Tech will play a defense ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in total D.

AA's pick: BYU 28, Georgia Tech 17

HD’s pick: BYU 35, Georgia Tech 28

What to watch in the ACC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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After a few weeks of mediocre games, the ACC gets down to business with a top-25 showdown in Tallahassee and a battle of Coastal Division contenders in Miami. Here are some of the top storylines as the ACC gets rolling in Week 6:

Battle of undefeated teams: At this point, Maryland and Florida State are both playing second fiddle to Clemson in the Atlantic Division, but the winner of Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee will firmly establish itself as the Tigers' top rival. FSU remains the heavy favorite, having never lost to Maryland in 11 previous games at Doak Campbell Stadium, but its defense was exposed last week against Boston College, and the Terps have plenty of offensive firepower. Still, the Seminoles are easily the most talented team Maryland has faced during its 4-0 start, and even coach Randy Edsall said it will take a stellar effort to overcome a long track record of struggles against FSU.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions since replacing Drew Allen as the starter.
Coastal Division showdown: In the span of four quarters against Virginia Tech's formidable defense, Georgia Tech went from potential favorite to divisional life support last week. The Yellow Jackets couldn't find an answer to the Hokies' defensive scheme, and they're now faced with a showdown against undefeated Miami in South Florida. A second conference loss -- both to teams ahead of them in the standings -- would likely spell doom for the Jackets' hopes of returning to the ACC championship game. Miami, meanwhile, needs to keep pace with the resurgent Hokies, and Georgia Tech promises a far bigger test than the Hurricanes have gotten in the past two weeks, when they beat Savannah State and USF by a combined 126-28.

The rich get richer: After eight months of rehab on his injured knee, Virginia Tech corner Antone Exum has finally been cleared to play, though a decision on whether he'll take the field this weekend isn't expected until after today's practice. That's not exactly good news for ACC offenses already at a loss for how to solve the Hokies' stingy defense. With Exum out of the lineup, freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have been phenomenal, combining for six interceptions and 12 passes defended in five games. Exum, meanwhile, was a second-team All-ACC corner last season. With Exum's return imminent, Facyson is getting reps at receiver, but it'll be up to coordinator Bud Foster to deal with the rather pleasant of finding reps for everyone.

Under the Dome: Syracuse kicks off ACC play for the first time, but the welcoming committee isn't likely to be particularly accommodating. Clemson heads to the Carrier Dome fresh off a throttling of Wake Forest and figures to present the Orange with a far bigger challenge than they've faced during their two-game winning streak against Wagner and Tulane. Still, Syracuse is far more optimistic about the season now that new starting QB Terrel Hunt has the offense rolling, and the Orange are expecting a nearly packed house.

Heisman watch in the ACC: Tajh Boyd has been an early favorite since the season started, and he burnished his credentials nicely last week against Wake Forest, completing 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three TDs, while rushing for a fourth. The upstart in the race is Winston, who led another ferocious offensive outburst for Florida State by completing 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards and four TDs. Both QBs get another shot to add to their increasingly impressive totals this week as the crowded field vying for the Heisman jockeys for the spotlight.

QB injuries: In Pittsburgh, Tom Savage faced a battery of concussion tests after being knocked around against Virginia. At Miami, the Hurricanes host Georgia Tech with starting quarterback Stephen Morris still nursing an ankle injury that he aggravated against USF. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is coming off his best game of the season, but he has been hampered with an abdominal injury for weeks. If any of those injuries prove more serious than initial reports, the always-fluid Coastal Division race could be in for another shakeup.

North Carolina's effort: After a stunning 55-31 loss to East Carolina last week, UNC tailback A.J. Blue publicly questioned whether his team had overlooked a supposedly subpar opponent. The same result isn't likely this week, as the Tar Heels travel to Virginia Tech hoping to salvage their season. A win could reinvigorate North Carolina's hopes in the division, but a loss would send the Heels to 1-4 with another tough game against Miami to follow. It's only Week 5, but North Carolina appears to already be in a must-win situation.

Virginia's slumbering offense: After a 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh, coach Mike London and QB David Watford both lamented Virginia's sluggish offensive performance. London promised changes on the O-line, Watford insisted on extra work with his receivers and the entirety of the unit really has nowhere to go but up this week against Ball State. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring offense and passing offense, and its minus-4 turnover margin ranks 110th nationally. Meanwhile, Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace.

Return of Mitchell: If all goes according to plan, this week's game against Wake Forest will be NC State's last without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke a bone in his foot in the opener. Pete Thomas has done a solid enough job in Mitchell's absence, but there's a clear gap in playmaking ability. Thomas' 80-yard TD throw to Bryan Underwood in last week's win was his first passing touchdown of the season (to go with five INTs), but the Wolfpack are 3-1 with him as the starter.

Boston College bounce-back: Now that the Defense Department has given Army the OK to travel for the game, it's safe for Boston College to start planning for a rebound performance after last week's loss to Florida State. In spite of the outcome from a week ago, BC should have plenty of confidence. The Eagles offense scored 34 points, its high in an ACC game since 2009, and ran the ball successfully against what was thought to be a stout FSU defense. A loss is still a loss, but the impressive offensive performance was yet another sign that BC has taken some big steps forward under first-year coach Steve Addazio.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
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The Week 5 slate has a handful of conference showdowns on tap, but the weekend figures to have its share of mismatches, too. Here are a few storylines to watch as the ACC closes out the season's first month:

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and the Yellow Jackets face a tough Virginia Tech defense on Thursday.
Vad Lee's big test: It's been a sterling start for the Georgia Tech QB, but the test gets much tougher this week. Lee has thrown seven touchdowns and rushed for three more through three games, and Georgia Tech's offense looks primed for a big season. But Virginia Tech's defense ranks among the nation's best thus far. The Hokies lead the ACC in rushing defense (96.5 yards per game) and have allowed just two passing plays of 25 yards or more through four weeks -- the two areas the Yellow Jackets have thrived. Georgia Tech took a big step toward establishing itself as a contender last week, but if Lee can find a way to break Virginia Tech's defensive stranglehold this week, the Yellow Jackets just might be the new favorite in the Coastal Division.

As Logan Thomas goes ...: The Hokies' offense has been brutal through four games, with Thomas shouldering the bulk of the criticism -- for good reason. He's completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes with just four TDs to go with six interceptions. But when Thomas is sharp, there's hope. On Tech's three scoring drives vs. Marshall last week, he was 10-of-13 for 106 yards. The rest of the game, he was just 8-of-10 for 75 yards. One key may be running Thomas more often. He had 23 rushing attempts against Marshall -- nearly double his total from the first three games combined.

Supporting the cause: As big as Georgia Tech's win over North Carolina last week was in the standings, it was the message Lee and others wore on wristbands designed to draw attention toward a push to reform NCAA regulations on player compensation and other issues. Coach Paul Johnson said this week that there should have been a team vote before any players took such a public stand, so it will be interesting to see if Tech's protesters take a step back or if more players -- both on the Yellow Jackets and around the nation -- step up to make a stand.

North Carolina's struggles: The Tar Heels figured to be at the top of the ACC's second tier this season, but they've hardly looked the part so far. UNC never really challenged South Carolina in a marquee nonconference opener, and the Heels blew a lead against Georgia Tech last week that puts them in an early hole in the division. Bryn Renner and the offense haven't been nearly as potent as the talent on the roster suggests, and the defense has struggled to stop the run all year. North Carolina tries to rebound against East Carolina this week, but the Pirates took Virginia Tech to the brink just two weeks ago and won't be a pushover.

More highlights from Crowder: In last week's loss, junior Jamison Crowder ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score -- the first time that feat had been accomplished at Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils' defense appears to be in complete disarray, but Crowder has injected enough life into the offense and special teams that Duke has at least remained competitive -- including last week's ferocious comeback attempt against Pitt. For the year, Crowder ranks among the ACC leaders in receptions (30), receiving yards (381), touchdowns (4) and all-purpose yards (668).

Keeping the faith at NC State: The Wolfpack nearly pulled the upset last week against Clemson, but concerns remain at quarterback, where Pete Thomas has yet to throw a TD pass this year. Still, NC State has kept itself afloat with a 2-1 start, and Brandon Mitchell could be back in a few weeks. The Wolfpack don't figure to be tested much against Central Michigan, and with a manageable schedule leading up to an Oct. 26 showdown against Florida State, Thomas simply needs to steady the ship and avoid catastrophe to keep NC State in the mix in the ACC.

Battle of the ground games: In the past 35 games, just four players have managed to exceed 100 yards on the ground against Florida State's defense. One of them is Boston College's Andre Williams, who is off to a strong start in 2013. He'll be the key to any potential BC upset, but the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their backfield, too. Devonta Freeman has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and ranks fourth in the nation in yards per carry. Offensive newcomer Karlos Williams has racked up 193 yards and three scores on just 17 carries so far. Overall, FSU ranks third in the country averaging 7.2 yards per rush so far this season.

Clemson building momentum: The general consensus after last week's near miss against NC State is that Clemson got lucky to escape with a win. A close call on what appeared to be a long touchdown for the Wolfpack was followed by a key turnover, swinging the momentum in a 26-14 Tigers win, but Tajh Boyd wasn't at his best and Clemson showed some vulnerability. The task against struggling Wake Forest this week will be to regain that air of invincibility, getting Boyd's Heisman campaign back on track and establishing that the Tigers are still the team to beat in the ACC.

Stephen Morris' health: The Miami quarterback left last week's blowout win over Savannah State early with a bone bruise in his right ankle, but he insists the injury isn't serious. He said he expects to be in the lineup when Miami takes on winless South Florida this week, and it could be a good chance for him to jump-start his season. While the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0 start, Morris is completing just 53 percent of his throws and has just four touchdowns to go with two INTs. USF's D hasn't been tested much through the air so far, but the unit figures to provide a bigger challenge than woeful Savannah State.

Pitt's O vs. Virginia's D: Aside from the blowout loss to Oregon -- a fate shared by many of the Ducks' opponents in recent years -- the Virginia defense has been solid, led by playmakers such as Eli Harold and Anthony Harris. But Virginia figures to be tested this week with an offense that might have playmakers to rival even Oregon's gaudy numbers. Pitt QB Tom Savage threw six touchdowns against Duke last week, while Devin Street, Tyler Boyd and James Conner all rank among the ACC's offensive leaders so far this season.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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Here's one last look back at the weekend that was in the ACC.

The good. Miami's 21-16 win over Florida was another strong statement for the ACC, as the league notched its second upset over a major SEC team in as many weeks. The win was the breakthrough that the Hurricanes needed after two seasons of progress under Al Golden. And, regardless of the less-than-pretty fashion it came in, the victory should provide a huge boost for the program moving forward.

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Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsBC's Andre Williams had another impressive performance in Week 2, rushing for 204 yards and a touchdown against Wake Forest.
The bad. Virginia suffered one of the conference's two nonconference defeats Saturday, falling at home to Oregon 59-10. Still, we probably learned more about the Cavaliers from their Week 1 upset of BYU, which then rushed for 550 yards Saturday against Texas in another (delay-filled) upset.

The ugly. Syracuse could barely blink before it found itself down by 20 at Northwestern, which ended up winning by a 48-27 margin. The Orange had four turnovers, surrendered 581 yards of offense and allowed Wildcats quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to go a combined 30-of-37 for 375 yards with four touchdowns and no picks. (Colter added 87 yards and a touchdown on the ground, too.)

The unfortunate turn of events. Last week NC State signal-caller Brandon Mitchell went down with a broken foot. In Week 2, Duke's Anthony Boone sustained a broken collarbone in the second quarter of the Blue Devils' win over Memphis and is out indefinitely. Brandon Connette came in and played well, completing 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns while adding 31 rushing yards.

The rebounds. A week after falling to SEC squads, North Carolina and Virginia Tech recovered by taking care of business. The Tar Heels tallied 511 total yards of offense and forced four turnovers in a 40-20 win over Middle Tennessee, while the Hokies' defense thrived in a 45-3 win over Western Carolina before a less-than-full Lane Stadium, which snapped a 93-game sellout streak, the nation's third-longest active streak. You have to respect Frank Beamer's comments afterward, as he thanked those who showed up.

The workhorse. How about Boston College running back Andre Williams? The senior posted his second straight 100-yard game Friday in a 24-10 win over Wake Forest, tallying 204 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries.

The Heisman dark horse. Don't look now, but C.J. Brown has been downright brilliant so far for Maryland. He threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 30 yards and two more scores in the Terrapins' 47-10 win over Old Dominion. Brown became the ninth quarterback since 2004 to post a total QBR of 95 or higher in each of his team's first two games.

The quote. After Clemson's 52-13 win over South Carolina State, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said: "How about that ACC? Spunky little old league." For good measure, he flashed "The U" sign before walking out of the room.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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For the second straight week, an ACC team knocked off an SEC heavyweight, but that wasn't the only storyline from Week 2. Here's what we learned:

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris and Miami picked up another big win for the ACC over the SEC with their victory over Florida.
Miami might be back: After an offensive performance that included just 212 total yards, fewer than 50 percent of passes completed, just 1.8 yards per carry and just one conversion on 11 third-down attempts, there's still some room for doubt about Miami's resurgence. But a win is a win, and it's the second straight week the ACC has unseated an SEC heavyweight. The Hurricanes may not be back to the level of their national-championship past, but they have more offensive talent than they showed against Florida. The real surprise on Saturday was a dominant performance by the defensive front -- a big question mark entering the season that was answered resoundingly in Miami's biggest win in nearly a decade. It's also another feather in the ACC's cap after Clemson knocked off Georgia in Week 1, giving the league at least three teams -- along with Florida State, which was on a bye -- with legitimate hopes of a BCS bowl bid.

Syracuse and Virginia couldn't follow Miami's lead: The top of the conference did its job in the opening weeks of the season, proving that the best of the ACC can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. In the middle of the pack, however, things are a bit more jumbled after Syracuse and Virginia were clobbered in nonconference tilts against ranked opponents. On the heels of strong defensive performances by both schools in Week 1, the two teams combined to allow 107 points to No. 19 Northwestern and No. 2 Oregon. Neither game was close from the outset, with Syracuse trailing the Wildcats 34-7 at the half and Oregon throttling Virginia 28-10 at the half. So while the two big wins for Clemson and Miami offered ample cachet for the ACC in the season's first two weeks, the conference lost its other four games against ranked foes and was just 2-5 against teams from BCS automatic qualifier conferences overall.

Boston College won't be a pushover: After a dismal 2012, it was easy enough to write off the Eagles as a team destined for a rebuilding phase. Add a lackluster effort early against Villanova to start the season, and it seemed appropriate to shrug off the win over FCS competition. But BC dominated Wake Forest this week, looking like a team that knows what it wants to do on both sides of the football, which is to be a physical, punishing group that will not be an easy win for anyone. Andre Williams' 204-yard rushing performance was impressive, and he's now tallied 318 yards rushing already this season. That would account for nearly 30 percent of BC's total rushing offense from all of 2012.

Duke and NC State will live and die with backups: One week after Brandon Mitchell went down with a broken foot at NC State, Duke's Anthony Boone became the second ACC quarterback to suffer a significant injury. Boone left in the second quarter against Memphis with a broken collarbone, leaving backup Brandon Connette to pick up the slack. Connette rallied the Blue Devils to 21 second-half points, including two fourth-quarter TDs to secure the win. Meanwhile, with Mitchell sidelined, NC State nearly fell to FCS foe Richmond before backup Pete Thomas engineered a 48-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up a game-winning field goal. Thomas wasn't exactly stellar -- he completed 24 of 31 passes for 237 yards and two interceptions -- and shared the workload with freshman Bryant Shirreffs, who completed all three of his passes, including one for a TD. But the Wolfpack still escaped with a win. Both NC State and Duke are now 2-0 in spite of their quarterback concerns.

Concerns remain at Virginia Tech, North Carolina: Against clearly overmatched opponents, the Hokies and Tar Heels both rebounded nicely from opening-week losses, but in some key areas, concerns linger. Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech passing game improved markedly after a dismal performance against Alabama, but against FCS foe Western Carolina, Thomas still threw two interceptions and didn't complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Meanwhile, North Carolina's run defense was torched by South Carolina in its opener, and while the Tar Heels' front found more success against Middle Tennessee -- four sacks, four QB hurries -- it still allowed 183 yards on the ground (not counting sacks), including 109 for tailback Jordan Parker. Through two weeks, UNC ranks 84th nationally in rushing defense.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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One week after Clemson and UNC took center stage with big nonconference games, Virginia and Miami step to the plate. Here's what to keep an eye on in Week 2 of ACC action.

1. A rivalry renewed: Once one of the most high-profile rivalries in the country, Florida and Miami have faced off just once in the past nine years -- a 26-3 Gators win in 2008. But the sparks fly again this week, and the matchup figures to live up to its rich history. Florida enters ranked No. 12 in the country, the latest SEC foe to provide a significant hurdle for the upstart ACC. Miami enters with its highest hopes in years, and a win over its in-state rival would solidify the notion that the Hurricanes are finally ready for the national spotlight again.

2. A big test for Virginia's defense: The Hoos sure looked impressive in their first game under coordinator Jon Tenuta last week, with Anthony Harris & Co. turning in a virtuoso performance in a come-from-behind win over BYU. Their reward? That'd be Oregon's high-flying offensive attack that managed to reel off 71 plays in less than 20 minutes of possession time in its opener.

3. David Watford put to the test: The bottom line for the first-year starter is that Virginia got the win, but it certainly wasn't a pretty offensive performance against BYU in Week 1. Watford was just 18-of-32 passing for 114 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His Total QBR ranked 107th nationally, and Virginia had eight three-and-outs. Fifteen of its 17 drives lasted six plays or fewer -- a major problem when trying to keep Oregon's up-tempo juggernaut off the field.

4. Syracuse vs. the Big Ten: For the second straight week, the Orange will take on a Big Ten foe, but after falling to Penn State 23-17 in Week 1, life won't get any easier this time around with a trip to No. 19 Northwestern. The defense looked solid against the Nittany Lions, but QB Drew Allen must improve on a performance that included 16-of-37 for 189 yards passing and two interceptions.

5. A rebound for Logan Thomas: Of the 121 Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks who qualified last week, none had a lower Total QBR than Thomas' 1.9. It was a dismal performance -- 5-of-26 for 59 yards and an INT -- and underscored numerous problems on Virginia Tech's offense. The receivers let Thomas down again and again, and the line didn't exactly provide smooth sailing. An overwhelmed Thomas shouldering the burden for the entire offense was the Hokies' downfall last season, and the situation doesn't appear to have changed much. On the upside, Western Carolina should feel like a weekend at the beach compared to Alabama's defense in Week 1.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Logan Thomas started the season just 5-of-26 for 59 yards in Virginia Tech's loss to Alabama.
6. NC State's quarterback rotation: Brandon Mitchell's surgery to repair a broken foot appears to have been a success, but now there's the small matter of getting through the next four to six weeks without him. Dave Doeren says Pete Thomas will get the start this week but he wants to "explore his options." That's not exactly a vote of confidence, particularly when it might mean seeing some receivers and tailbacks getting a look at QB.

7. Tajh Boyd burnishes his Heisman candidacy: After the first week of games, the Clemson quarterback appears to be the Heisman front-runner, and he'll get a chance to add to his gaudy numbers against Football Championship Subdivision foe South Carolina State on Saturday. But offensive coordinator Chad Morris actually criticized his QB a bit, saying he'd like to see a faster offensive tempo.

8. Identifying a contender: Wake Forest and Boston College are both coming off down seasons in 2012, both struggled early against FCS foes in Week 1 and both eventually managed to win with relative ease. So what did we learn? Probably not much, but both teams will get a chance to prove they belong when they face off against one another Friday night in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

9. North Carolina's run defense: It wasn't Jadeveon Clowney who proved to be the Tar Heels' nightmare in a 27-10 opening-week loss. It was their own defense, which coughed up 228 rushing yards to the Gamecocks, including a whopping 9.6 yards per carry to sophomore Mike Davis.

10. More offense for Maryland, Duke: Both teams offered question marks entering the season. Duke was retooling its offensive pieces, while Maryland was happy to simply have a few more of its offensive stars -- namely quarterback C.J. Brown -- back at work. Both turned in dominant performances in their openers, both topping 40 points and 480 yards of offense. The Terps get newly minted FBS Independent Old Dominion this week, and Duke faces off against Memphis (9-39 over the past four seasons), meaning more fireworks are likely in store.

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