NCF Nation: Bryan Underwood

Bryan Underwood, Josh MedlinCourtesy of NC State sports informationBryan Underwood celebrated NC State's Senior Day with Josh Medlin, left, and Kerby Harrison, a high school coach of Underwood's.
Early in the fall, a young NC State fan got out his crayons, his pencils and a clean sheet of paper and started to draw.

Soon, a pretty good drawing of receiver Bryan Underwood started to take shape. Josh Medlin, 8, submitted his artwork to a social media campaign NC State started asking kids to draw their favorite player.

Underwood saw the picture on Twitter when he got out of practice one day in November. Intrigued, he came up with an idea and decided to give the ultimate gift before the holiday season began. Underwood wanted Josh to walk onto the field with him for Senior Day.

[+] EnlargeJosh Medlin
Courtesy of Josh MedlinBryan Underwood said Josh Medlin's artwork was "a pretty cool drawing for an 8-year-old to make."
Underwood needed company out there, after all. One of his high school coaches would be there with him, but his parents had a church event that weekend and were unable to attend. More than the company, though, Underwood wanted to show Josh how much his drawing meant to him.

“It was my last game here, and he doesn’t get another chance to meet me. So I figured why not meet him there?” Underwood recalled recently. “It was a pretty cool drawing for an 8-year-old to make. For anybody who takes pride in the program, I wanted to show our appreciation.”

Underwood called the Medlin home and spoke to Josh's parents. They were thrilled. He spoke to Josh, who was extremely shy and, truthfully, a little intimidated about having to walk onto a football field with 55,000 fans staring at him.

His parents assured him all would be fine. On Nov. 15, Josh Medlin and Bryan Underwood met at the 50 before kickoff against Wake Forest. Underwood handed him a pair of gloves. They posed for pictures. That would have been kind enough had Underwood stopped there.

But he decided he had to do more. Underwood walked Josh back to his seats in the north end zone, lifted him over the fence, jumped into the stands himself and climbed up to the seats.

In full uniform.

With minutes to go before kick.

The fans around him clapped. A few murmured, “Aww, how cute!”

“It just shows what a special individual Bryan is,” Josh’s father, Danny, said from his home in North Carolina. “There’s so many negative sports stories these days that when you see something like this, it makes you burst with pride.”

Underwood smiles when asked why he decided to escort Josh back to his parents.

“I figured why not?” Underwood said. “He was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him, and I wanted to talk to him a little more. He was a great kid.”

Josh Medlin still wears his gloves regularly. How could he not, when they came from his favorite player? The Medlins have supported NC State for decades. Danny Medlin graduated from NC State. So did his wife and many other relatives. He has held season tickets since the 1990s, and the whole family tries to attend every home game. Josh has always admired Underwood, and he got his artistic inspiration from the cover of a publication from the Wolfpack Club.

Underwood has one game left in his NC State career -- Friday night against UCF in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. Whether he has zero receptions or 10 receptions will not matter much to Josh Medlin. He already has what matters most.

NC State Wolfpack season preview

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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Previewing the 2014 season for the NC State Wolfpack:

Key returners: RB Shadrach Thornton (768 yards, 4 TD), WR Bryan Underwood (32 catches, 382 yards), OT Joe Thuney, DE Art Norman (9 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DT Thomas Teal (10.5 TFL, 3 sacks), S Hakim Jones (61 tackles, 2 INT), LB Brandon Pittman (63 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: WR Rashard Smith, WR Quintin Payton, DB Dontae Johnson, LB D.J. Green, LB Robert Caldwell

Most important games: Sept. 27 versus FSU, Oct. 4 at Clemson, Oct. 18 at Louisville, Nov. 29 at North Carolina

Projected win percentage: .479

Vegas over/under: 5.5 wins

[+] EnlargeShadrach Thornton
MCT via Getty ImagesShadrach Thornton rushed for 768 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Instant impact newcomers: Jacoby Brissett sat out 2013 after transferring from Florida. He’ll now be counted on not just as the team’s starting quarterback, but as its offensive leader and, in many ways, the program’s savior. Freshman wideout Bo Hines had a huge spring game and has quickly emerged as one of Brissett’s favorite targets. Defensive end Kentavius Street and tackle Justin Jones could add some serious physicality to a defensive line that was often boom-or-bust in 2013.

Biggest question mark: For a team that went winless in ACC play last year, there are plenty of question marks. Brissett’s emergence is chief among them, but coach Dave Doeren seems more than pleased with his QB. Who will emerge among the young receivers for Brissett to throw to? Can the offensive line protect better than it did a year ago? Can the defensive line be more consistently disruptive? Can injured veterans like Underwood, Rob Crisp and Jarvis Byrd come back to make an impact? The list goes on and on, but there’s certainly hope that the Wolfpack have far more answers than they did a year ago.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Brissett proves to be the answer to many of last year’s offensive woes and instantly transforms the Wolfpack into a more dynamic team. The running game proves a strength and the defensive line routinely disrupts the opposition’s game plan. Injured veterans return and young depth emerges. NC State improves as the season progresses, pulls off an upset or two, and returns to postseason play with seven or eight wins.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Brissett isn’t the answer State’s fans had hoped for, and he struggles with a shaky supporting cast. The offensive line never comes together and the defensive front can’t stop the run. Early tests against FSU and Clemson sink the season, and the Wolfpack limp to another lowly finish in an increasingly difficult division.

Number to know: 100, 100, 100. State tailback Matt Dayes is one of just four returning ACC players to accumulate 100 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game last year. He’s not exactly entrenched atop the Wolfpack’s depth chart now, but Doeren did show a propensity for utilizing his most versatile talent last season, when Rashard Smith topped 100 yards rushing (121), receiving (530), on kick returns (310) and punt returns (240). Dayes could easily fill a similar all-purpose role this year.

They said it: “He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position.” - Doeren on Brissett’s role as the team’s leader

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.”
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In most places, it would speak volumes that Kalen McCain and Germaine Pratt, both just a few weeks into their college careers, were running with the second-team defense Saturday during NC State’s first scrimmage of the spring.

Indeed, both freshmen safeties have impressed teammates so far. McCain is instinctive, according to senior Jarvis Byrd, looking like a ball hawk in coverage. In that scrimmage, McCain picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, but at just 175 pounds, he needs to add some bulk. Pratt, on the other hand, is a charging bull in the secondary. At 6-foot-3, nearly 200 pounds, he plays like a linebacker -- a throwback to his high school days when he spent significant time in the box, playing the run -- and still needs refinement in coverage. But when he hits, he hits hard.

[+] EnlargeGermain Pratt
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comJust months ago, Germaine Pratt was a three-star prospect. Now he's pushing for a big role in NC State's secondary.
It’s a promising start for both players, but for the Wolfpack, their spot on the depth chart is a matter of necessity.

“They’re running with the twos because they have to,” safety Hakim Jones said. “We only have four safeties.”

This is the landscape in Raleigh for the nine early enrollees at NC State -- seven scholarship freshmen, along with long snapper Robert Brunstetter and preferred walk-on Ty Linton, a former North Carolina commitment who has played professional baseball for the past four years. There is opportunity at every turn, the result of a disproportionately young roster, but it is also a trial by fire.

“You go through this whole recruiting process and it seems like it should take a long time, but then you get here and it’s fast,” said Bo Hines, one of two freshman wide receivers enrolled for the spring. “Everything is moving.”

By coach Dave Doeren’s math, 71 percent of NC State’s roster this year will be freshmen or sophomores. Many saw action last year as the Wolfpack struggled to fill out a depth chart amid myriad injuries en route to a disastrous 3-9 season in which they didn’t win a game in conference play. The new arrivals, meanwhile, are getting a healthy dose of snaps on the practice field with an eye toward playing time this fall.

It’s a challenge, Doeren admits, but it’s also an investment in the viability of a crucial freshmen class this fall.

“[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there,” Doeren said. “Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.”

And this spring isn’t simply a chance for the freshmen to dip their toes in the pool and test the waters of life in the ACC. It’s a blank slate, with a chance for them to etch their names into permanent jobs when the Wolfpack open the 2014 season.

“Since Day 1, since we went into the first meeting, [Doeren] said nobody had a guaranteed spot,” Pratt said. “I’m pushing hard to earn my spot.”

Perhaps as important, Doeren said, is the veterans are now pushing harder to keep their spots.

With such a thin roster a year ago, Doeren had little choice but to hand playing time over to unproven players. The results were mixed. Some blossomed, like receiver Jumichael Ramos, who caught 11 passes and scored three times in the final three games of his freshman campaign last year. Some struggled, including a defensive line that featured a trio of freshmen and sophomores who earned regular playing time, but finished 103rd nationally in run defense. Others, like receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (12 catches for 174 yards in his first two games, 10 catches for 107 the rest of the way) did a little of both.

[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there. Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.

-- NC State coach Dave Doeren on early enrollees
All of that was to be expected, Doeren said. What concerned the second-year coach was that, after winning playing time by default in 2013, complacency could set in this season. The nine new faces this spring can go a long way toward alleviating those concerns.

“The freshmen are coming to me, asking how to run a route and what the concepts are or just asking how we felt when we came in as freshmen and what we did to play,” Ramos said. “I do feel older. I don’t feel like a freshman anymore.”

Still, Doeren is aware of the reality. Most of the time, it’s 18-year old freshmen asking 19-year old veterans for advice, and that’s not an ideal recipe for success. That makes NC State’s real veterans -- the handful of juniors and seniors like Byrd and Jones -- an immensely valuable asset this spring.

It’s a role they’ve been happy to take on, receiver Bryan Underwood said. Last year, he was a mentor for Ramos and Valdes-Scantling. Now, he’s finding more room under his wing for the new arrivals.

Jones busies himself each night hosting his new protégés in the secondary, too. Pratt and McCain are fixtures in his room, the playbook spread open throughout the evening.

“We came to them with open arms and just -- welcome to the team,” Jones said.

That’s exactly what Doeren was hoping for, but it’s hardly the end of his concerns.

Pratt and Hines and the rest of the new arrivals are still wide-eyed and overmatched more often than not. It’s a learning experience, and for now at least, most of the lessons will be tough ones.

But that’s the other advantage of this big class of early enrollees for NC State. Even after the toughest workouts, the miserable have plenty of company.

“Having those guys around,” Hines said, “we’re all going through the same thing.”
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."
This wasn't how it was supposed to go. NC State was playing well, off to a 3-1 start under first-year coach Dave Doeren, having weathered the storm of losing its starting quarterback in Week 1 and poised to snap a long road losing streak to struggling Wake Forest. Instead, the Wolfpack limped out of Winston-Salem with a loss for the sixth straight time, suddenly 0-2 in the conference.

But the aftermath, receiver Bryan Underwood said, was actually not much different from any other week.

"We just pretty much watched the film, we figured it as a learning experience," Underwood said.

For NC State, it was a painful lesson, but the Wolfpack are not alone. Week 6 proved to be a turning point for a handful of ACC teams that entered Saturday with inflated expectations but ended the day dealing with the fallout of ugly losses.

The task now is to find a way to figure what went wrong last week and begin rebuilding confidence for what lies ahead.

"The mood in the locker room is pretty much determination to get back after it and prove to the fans and the world that we're not going to let one game take us down," Underwood said.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Terrel Hunt couldn't provide a boost for Syracuse against Clemson.
It's a sentiment shared at Syracuse, where the Orange were fresh off two dominant wins and dreaming of an upset over No. 3 Clemson before reality hit with devastating force. New starting quarterback Terrel Hunt struggled mightily, and Clemson rode a 35-7 halftime lead to an easy win.

It was hardly the outcome Syracuse had envisioned, but it was an opportunity to measure itself against the ACC's best.

"They’re the No. 3 team in the country for a reason, and they showed that they are a really good football team," tailback Jerome Smith said. "That’s our goal for the future -- to become a team like that.”

If NC State's loss came as a surprise, and Syracuse's thumping was a disappointment, what happened to Maryland was potentially devastating.

The Terrapins opened the season 4-0 for the first time since 2001, and they came to Tallahassee ranked No. 25 in the nation. They left on the wrong side of a 63-0 defeat -- the worst in history for a team ranked in the top 25.

Coach Randy Edsall took the bulk of the blame in the aftermath, but he said his team would be resolved to improve moving forward.

“We weren’t very good, and Florida State’s a very good team," Edsall said. "I know the guys in the locker room. I know who they are, and I know the resolve that we have, and we will be back, and we will look at this and get better.”

But rebounding from a tough loss isn't always easy. The expectations a team worked so hard to build quickly disappear, and the risk in the aftermath is that players lose interest in the details.

Underwood knows how it works. NC State has endured its share of highs and lows during his time in Raleigh, so he knows what to watch for on the practice field after a tough loss.

"Focus and mental toughness," Underwood said. "I just want to see my guys be more focused and mentally tough to get their minds right for Saturday and be ready to go."

NC State hosts Syracuse on Saturday, ensuring one team's season will be rejuvenated, while the other will take another step in the wrong direction.

Maryland has a chance to put its blowout loss in the past when it hosts struggling Virginia.

That's the best cure for what ails a team after disappointment. Just getting back on the field marks a turning point.

"Those kids are smart enough to understand," Edsall said. "We will look at it and move on. We can’t dwell it. This one is over with. We'll learn from it just like the other ones, and now we move onto the next one.”

ACC predictions: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
Andrea correctly picked the Virginia Tech upset over Georgia Tech, but neither she nor Heather called the East Carolina upset over North Carolina. For the week, Andrea went 7-1 to bring her season total to 41-5. Heather went 6-2 and is now two behind at 39-7 overall.

Let's see what Week 6 has in store.

No. 25 Maryland (4-0) at No. 8 Florida State (4-0, 2-0), noon, ESPN. Maryland has never won in Tallahassee. Florida State has now won eight straight conference games, the first time the Noles have accomplished that feat since the 2001-02 seasons. Those two stats alone give Florida State the edge. Still, most expect this to be a competitive game. All eyes are on dual-threat quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Jameis Winston, who rank 1-2 in the ACC in total offense and are a big reason why their teams are unbeaten. Maryland is vastly improved on defense -- ranking just ahead of Florida State. But the Terps have not played anybody as good as this FSU offense. You could say the same for the FSU D. Still, the Noles have faced better competition (3 FBS teams .500 or better; Maryland two winless FBS teams) and have more depth and speed.

AA says: Florida State 30, Maryland 21

HD says: Florida State 28, Maryland 27

Ball State (4-1) at Virginia (2-2, 0-1), noon, ESPN3. Virginia is on upset alert after its dreadful offensive performance against Pitt. Given the way Ball State scores, Virginia cannot win a shootout. It will have to rely on its stellar defense to slow down the prolific Cardinals and hope changes made to the offensive line and other positions on offense work. The good news for the Hoos is that Ball State has not been particularly adept at stopping the run, giving up about 200 yards a game. Of course, Pitt had been a sieve, too, and UVa only managed three points last week. AA says: Virginia 20, Ball State 17

HD says: Virginia is having trouble scoring on air right now, and Ball State is hot. Yes, UVa’s defense has been much-improved under coordinator Jon Tenuta, but it’s October and coach Mike London has just opened up some of his starting jobs on offense to competition. That's not a good sign. Meanwhile, Ball State is No. 10 in the country in passing offense, and averaging 40 points per game. Virginia’s defense will keep it in the game, but a costly turnover or two and the Hoos’ inability to convert on third downs will be the difference. Ball State 14, Virginia 13

North Carolina (1-3, 0-1) at Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Nobody has to remind Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer about what happened in this game a year ago, when the Tar Heels racked up 339 yards rushing and won 48-34. But much has changed since their last meeting. Giovani Bernard -- who had a career-high 262 yards rushing -- is gone, and the North Carolina run game has fallen off in dramatic fashion. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is vastly improved and ranks No. 4 in the nation in total defense. Given the way North Carolina has played on offense and the way Virginia Tech has played on defense this year, it is hard to give the Tar Heels much of a shot.

AA says: Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 7

HD says: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 17

Army (2-3) at Boston College (2-2, 1-1), 1 p.m., ESPN3. After some uncertainty as a result of the government shutdown, BC announced Thursday morning this game would be played as scheduled. Coach Steve Addazio says preparation during the week has focused on slowing down the Army option. Army is averaging 325 yards on the ground this season, and BC has had a tough time slowing down the run. To make matters worse, the Eagles have lost starting defensive tackle Mehdi Abdesmad for the season with a torn left patellar tendon. This is going to be a ground 'n' pound type of game. If Josh Harris at Wake Forest can lead the Deacs to a win over Army, then Andre Williams can do the same for BC.

AA says: Boston College 28, Army 17

HD says: Boston College 28, Army 21

NC State (3-1, 0-1) at Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The home team has won every game going back to 2007, but that streak is going to come to an end Saturday. Here is why. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe conceded this week his offense still has not found its niche and the coaches are trying to figure out what works well. Never good to hear that nearly midway through the season. The Deacs have improved on defense, but their offense remains sub-par and Grobe acknowledged they need Tanner Price to play better. NC State, meanwhile, has gotten terrific production from Bryan Underwood lately and has seen Pete Thomas improve each week. Plus, its defense leads the ACC with 37 tackles for loss.

AA says: NC State 31, Wake Forest 17

HD says: NC State 28, Wake 17

No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0) at Syracuse (2-2), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. We have heard a lot of Syracuse players speak confidently about their chances at pulling the upset this weekend. The Orange have, after all, pulled an upset or two over a ranked team at home the last several years. The plan will be the same as the one that flustered Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith -- put pressure on Tajh Boyd and hope that does enough to limit the skill players on the perimeter and keep the scoring down. But if the Tigers can handle the pressure, watch out. The Syracuse secondary has been a weak spot defensively this year. Terrel Hunt has played well in the last two games for Syracuse. But he has not seen anybody that compares to Vic Beasley or this Clemson defensive front yet. The Dome crowd will be loud, but ultimately Clemson will prevail in large part because it will win the matchups up front.

AA says: Clemson 30, Syracuse 20

HD says: Clemson 35, Syracuse 21

Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1) at No. 14 Miami (4-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Perhaps the most surprising stat headed into this game relates to the defenses -- both teams rank in the Top 10 in the nation in total D and scoring D. Consider where both were a year ago at this time, and that is a remarkable turnaround. Though Heather projects another shootout in this one, Andrea believes this is going to be a close, low-scoring game because of said defenses. The difference here is Miami is much better on offense, and has many more reliable playmakers. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson will make enough plays on the Jackets' defense to get the Canes to 5-0.

AA says: Miami 24, Georgia Tech 20

HD says: Miami 41, Georgia Tech 31

ACC weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
Here is one last look back at the weekend that was in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLogan Thomas came through for Virginia Tech against Georgia Tech.
The good: Logan Thomas completed his first nine passes, his defense made its case as one of the nation's best and Virginia Tech pulled off the 17-10 upset Thursday night at Georgia Tech, potentially revitalizing a Hokies program that had been facing several questions following a 7-6 campaign and mostly underwhelming performances through its 3-1 start entering Atlanta. Thomas finished 19-of-25 for 221 yards and a touchdown, adding 58 yards and another score on the ground. Virginia Tech's defense held the vaunted triple-option offense of the Yellow Jackets to 10 points and 273 total yards -- on a short week, no less. The Coastal division race is very interesting, to say the least.

The bad: Paging North Carolina. What in the world happened to the Tar Heels? They dropped a 55-31 home contest Saturday to East Carolina to fall to 1-3, and their offense and defense might share equal blame. The offense for failing to score in the final 39-plus minutes last week at Georgia Tech, then not scoring a touchdown until late in the second quarter Saturday, while already facing a 21-3 hole. The defense for, well, giving up 55 points and 603 total yards to the Pirates. Games on deck at Virginia Tech and then against Miami (Fla.) won't be any easier on the offense, but UNC needs answers fast.

The ugly: Miami's 49-21 win at USF was rather uneventful in terms of competitiveness, but Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris added some spice to the postgame talk after he accused the Bulls of being a "dirty team." Morris had thrown 222 yards and two scores before leaving in the second quarter after reinjuring his ankle, which he hurt the week before against Savannah State. Said Morris, according to the Palm Beach Post: "South Florida's a dirty team. When you're down and tackled and everyone's on top, they're going to try to go for your ankles. We were up three, four touchdowns. Ain't no point for me to mess with these guys who are going to play dirty. It is what it is. I wanted to score 70 points on them. They disrespected us, so I had no respect for them. At that point, I felt like we should just keep pushing it, keep killing them."

The slugfest: OK, maybe we're being generous here, but credit Pittsburgh for being able to outlast Virginia 14-3 one week after running away from Duke in a 58-55 win. The Panthers outgained the Cavaliers 199-188. They rushed for just eight yards. They had three turnovers and forced two themselves. The teams combined for 17 punts. Tom Savage was sacked nine times and left with concussion-like symptoms late in the fourth quarter. But Pitt has won three in a row after a rough opener against Florida State, and that's all that matters.

The history: Tajh Boyd eclipsed the 100-touchdown mark for his career in Clemson's 56-7 win Saturday over Wake Forest, making him the second quarterback in ACC history to accomplish the feat for his career, joining Philip Rivers. Boyd completed 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, and he added 69 rushing yards and another touchdown. He bounced back from a so-so outing at NC State a week earlier and reignited the Heisman talk surrounding him. He took offensive coordinator Chad Morris' advice to "have fun" and helped the Tigers make easy work of the Demon Deacons.

The big quarter: NC State scored four touchdowns in the second frame of its 48-14 win over Central Michigan, recovering from the loss to Clemson and improving to 3-1. Pete Thomas threw his first touchdown pass of the season, an 80-yard strike to Bryan Underwood late in the fourth quarter, as the Wolfpack rolled. The quarterback finished 14-of-20 for 244 yards with one touchdown and one pick, plus another rushing score. He connected all day with Underwood, who caught five passes for 148 yards and added 42 rushing yards.

The rebound: It was only against Troy, but Brandon Connette completed 20 of 28 passes for 324 yards with three touchdowns and just one pick in Duke's 38-31 win over the Trojans, while adding 55 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground. The redshirt junior's numbers were similar last week against Pitt, but his four picks against the Panthers proved to be costly. Saturday was far from pretty, but the Blue Devils got a win they simply had to have it they want to go bowling for a second straight season. Their 514 yards of offense helped them get to 3-2.

The quote: In losing a tightly contested, 48-34 shootout to Florida State, Boston College exceeded everyone's expectations. Everyone's but their own. Said coach Steve Addazio, according to ESPN Boston's Jack McCluskey: “Don’t let people tell you, ‘Oh boy, you played Florida State nose up.’ Who cares? We didn’t come out there to play them nose up. I heard that crap early in the media. People asking me about, ‘What are you gonna do to keep it close?’ I had all I could do not to explode. What do you think, you coach or play to keep it close? What are you talking about here? You play to win. We played that game physically enough to win it. We let up too many big plays, and that cost us a football game. And it didn’t have to happen. I don’t care who the heck we played.”

ACC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
The two ACC quarterbacks contending for the Heisman turned in outstanding performances in Week 5, while one of the league's most maligned quarterbacks joined them. Here are this week's helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas: Perhaps no player in the ACC has faced more criticism in the first month of the season, but in spite of his struggles, Thomas now has his Hokies in position to win the Coastal thanks to an upset of Georgia Tech in which he was nearly flawless. Thomas completed 19-of-25 passes (just his second career game completing better than 70 percent of his throws) for 221 yards and a TD. He also rushed 16 times for 58 yards and another touchdown. Plenty of credit again goes to the Virginia Tech D, which sealed the game with a late interception, but it was Thomas' sterling performance that provides hope the Hokies still have a shot at a BCS game.

Pitt DT Aaron Donald: One week after being gashed for 55 points by Duke, the Pitt defense stepped up and shut down Virginia. The Cavaliers mustered just three points and 188 yards of offense, with Donald leading the charge in the middle of the line. Donald finished the game with two sacks, two QB hurries, three tackles and a forced fumble. Virginia managed just 2 yards per rush.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The defense struggled, the special teams were bad, but FSU's dynamic freshman quarterback staved off Boston College's upset bid almost single-handedly. Winston completed 17-of-27 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns, including a 55-yard Hail Mary throw at the end of the first half to Kenny Shaw. Winston was dazzling, leading FSU back from a 17-3 deficit with three completions of 40-plus yards. He also paced FSU's rushing game, carrying 14 times for 67 yards.

NC State WR Bryan Underwood: The Wolfpack kept things close with Clemson last week but came up just short. They've found a good bit more success outside the conference, including Saturday's 48-14 thrashing of Central Michigan when Underwood led the way with 190 yards of offense and a touchdown. Underwood caught five passes for a career-high 148 yards. Underwood hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass from Pete Thomas, the first of the season for the NC State quarterback.

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd: After a somewhat shaky outing against NC State a week ago, Boyd bounced back into Heisman form against woefully overmatched Wake Forest. The senior QB completed 17-of-24 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also served as Clemson's leading rusher, carrying the ball 17 times for 69 yards and a score. Boyd has accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of his three starts against FBS opponents (and 14 of his last 15 dating to last season).

ACC keeps expecting the unexpected

September, 28, 2013
In the days leading up to Virginia Tech's Thursday night showdown with Georgia Tech, Logan Thomas could hardly throw. An abdominal injury limited him in practice, which figured to be bad news for the Hokies, given how poorly Thomas and the offense had played when healthy.

So, of course, the senior quarterback went to Atlanta, played his best game of the season, and the much-maligned Virginia Tech offense helped lead an upset over the Yellow Jackets.

It was a harbinger for the weekend to come in the ACC. Just when it seemed we had things pegged, the expectations got turned upside down again.

How else to explain what happened in Pittsburgh, where the Panthers' defense completely shut down Virginia just seven days after coughing up 532 yards and 55 points to Duke? Certainly Virginia's offense didn't present the same test, but the Cavaliers mustered just 188 yards of offense in the game. Of course, the most surprising thing might have been that high-flying Pitt managed only 11 more.

Who could have possibly predicted Boston College's near upset of Florida State? It wasn't so much that the Eagles came out quickly against an unprepared Seminoles team. They did, of course, jumping out to a 17-3 lead. What was perhaps more surprising, however, was that BC kept coming back even after Jameis Winston and Florida State delivered what seemed like one final dagger after another. BC fought to the end, riding a power running game to 34 points against the bigger, faster Seminoles. Florida State knew BC's game plan was to run the ball, and yet Andre Williams still racked up 149 yards on the ground -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010.

And what happened to North Carolina? Sure, the Tar Heels hadn't opened the season with many fireworks, but this was a team that tied for the Atlantic Division title a year ago, looked at least reasonably capable against South Carolina in its opener and was up early on Georgia Tech a week ago before faltering late. So did the Heels take out their frustrations against East Carolina? Not even close. UNC allowed 603 yards and 55 points, of course.

[+] EnlargePete Thomas
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIAfter a rough start to the season, Pete Thomas stepped up with his best game in a win against Central Michigan.
Or how about NC State's Pete Thomas? The backup QB forced into the starting role in Week 1 had looked dreadful during his first three games, tossing four interceptions without a TD. He looked much improved against Central Michigan on Saturday, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood, helping NC State to nearly 500 yards of total offense.

Then there was Logan Thomas, who had completed 70 percent of his passes in a game just once in his career, but managed to find receivers on 19 of his 25 attempts against Georgia Tech, racking up 279 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the win.

If the slate didn't provide myriad upsets, it certainly provided plenty of surprises in just how those outcomes came to be.

And yet, not every game was a shocker. Clemson scored an easy win on Wake Forest, and Miami ran up the score against USF. Some outcomes were so secure, there was no wiggle room for surprises.

But so much of what seemed clear a week ago -- that Georgia Tech was in the driver's seat in the Coastal, that Florida State was gearing up for its showdown with Clemson, that the Hokies couldn't move the football and Pitt couldn't stop it -- those assumptions all seem a bit silly now.

Instead, the Seminoles must go back to work and try to figure out how their defense has been gashed by both of the ACC opponents it has faced this year. With Maryland and Clemson up next on the slate, such shortcomings won't be so easily overcome by Winston's heroics.

Georgia Tech's plans for a second straight trip to the ACC title game may be dashed already, but the Jackets can help themselves stay alive with a win over Miami next week. They’re going to need some outside help, though, as they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech, should it come to that.

Clemson and Miami are rolling, Pitt and NC State appear resilient, North Carolina and Wake are reeling. And Duke? Well, there's always hope the Blue Devils' D can rebound as well as Virginia Tech's offense.

"That locker room feels real good about ourselves," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said after their big win. "But like [defensive coordinator Bud] Foster says, when you start feeling good about yourself, that’s when you get knocked off."

That's a warning worth remembering around the ACC after this week.

After all, for all we thought we learned, the one overriding revelation could be that those lessons may last only until the games of Week 6 kick off and the whole set of assumptions is flipped upside down once again.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- As the final whistle sounded in Clemson’s sluggish 26-14 win over NC State on Thursday night, the entire officiating crew sprinted off the field and into a waiting maroon minivan, whisked away into the dark night.

Know who else was happy to escape Raleigh? Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who opened his postgame news conference by saying, “Glad to get that one over. We can’t load the buses up soon enough.”

No. 3 Clemson (3-0) kept its national championship hopes intact thanks to one huge momentum shift involving said referees. Clinging to a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter, Clemson watched as NC State receiver Bryan Underwood blazed 83 yards down the sideline like track superstar Usain Bolt, crossing into the end zone as the Carter-Finley Stadium crowd erupted.

One official signaled touchdown in the end zone.

Except another official whistled the play dead, believing Underwood had stepped out of bounds. Because of that whistle, the play was not reviewable. Underwood dashed down that sideline with such speed, it was hard to tell whether he had, indeed, stepped out of bounds in real time. Screen grabs zoomed into Underwood’s cleats showed he might have been out.

NC State instead got the ball at the Clemson 47. Three plays later, Vic Beasley sacked Pete Thomas and forced a fumble that Spencer Shuey recovered. Five plays after that, Tajh Boyd threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant, setting the Tigers on their way to the win.

Of course, each coach had a different view of the Underwood play.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsIt might not have been pretty, but Tajh Boyd and Clemson escaped with a win over NC State.
“When you’re trying to have a great year, there's always a few breaks,” Swinney said. “The guy stepped out of bounds. That's a tough break for them and a good break for us.”

“That was right in front of me,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “He wasn't out of bounds. Unfortunately, they blew it dead, so we couldn't review it. It cost us some points, but you have to move on from that.”

NC State could not move on. The play deflated the energy in the crowd, and the Wolfpack on the field, too. To that point, the game was right there for them to take, giving some flashbacks to what they did to Florida State last season and Clemson in 2011.

Much like the game against the Tigers in 2011, the NC State defensive front befuddled Boyd for the first half. NC State led 7-6 in the second quarter before Clemson scored just before halftime to go up 13-7. Still, the normally high-powered Tigers offense chugged into halftime looking like it needed an entire overhaul.

The third quarter did not begin much better for Clemson, with two three-and-outs to start. But then came the Underwood play. Then, the Beasley sack and strip. Swinney called it “the spark that got us going.”

“The defensive players depend on me to make big plays,” Beasley said. “[They say], ‘Vic, come on, you gotta get there.’”

The response from Beasley?

“Alright guys, I got you,” Beasley said. “I know what the guys are expecting from me.”

In the same way, the offense relies on Boyd to get the offense going. He did not play his best first half. But when he saw what Beasley did, he knew he had to lead his team down the field for a score.

“A field goal wasn't enough in that situation,” Boyd said. “I love field goals, but we want to score touchdowns when we step out on that field. That's just our job.”

Boyd hit Bryant for another touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a 26-7 lead that put the game permanently out of reach.

Shortly after, a staffer came to where ACC coordinator of officiating Doug Rhoads had been sitting in the press box. Rhoads had left his seat after the Underwood play and went down to the field. The staffer packed up Rhoads’ belongings and quietly walked away.

Clemson walked away, too, this time unscathed.

“I think a lot of people were looking for us to have a letdown game or 'Clemsoning' type of game, but I'm confident in the type of team we have. I'm confident in the type of players we have,” Boyd said. “The coaching staff does a great job. Again, it wasn't perfect by any means. It wasn't pretty by any means, but you gotta love going on the road and getting a win.”

NC State has defeated one ranked team every year since 2005. No. 3 Clemson made sure the Tigers weren’t this year’s victim of the Raleigh curse. Here’s a quick look back at Clemson’s win over NC State:

It was over when: Bryan Underwood’s would-be 83-yard touchdown run was called back in the third quarter. Officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the 47-yard line, quarterback Pete Thomas was sacked and fumbled three plays later, and Clemson recovered it and scored on the following possession. In a tight game, it was that turn of events that shifted the momentum and gave the Tigers a 20-7 lead NC State could never recover from.

Game ball goes to: Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley. He's the one who sacked Thomas on third-and-10 for a loss of 6 yards in the third quarter. He finished with three sacks, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and five total tackles.

Stat of the game: NC State was just 3-of-16 on third downs. The Pack offense got some big plays and averaged almost 6 yards per play, but they hurt themselves with nine penalties and a turnover. The last third-down conversion for the Pack? A touchdown by Thomas with 3:50 left in the game.

What Clemson learned: It’s not invincible. If the No. 3-ranked Tigers want to stay undefeated and in the hunt for the national title -- aka beat Florida State -- they have to play better offensively. Clemson was pushed around up front by the Wolfpack’s defensive line, and quarterback Tajh Boyd wasn’t always accurate in his throws. Let's not forget the defense, which allowed a 23-play drive in the fourth quarter.

What NC State learned: It can hang with the big boys. First-year coach Dave Doeren made a statement that he has no intentions of being an afterthought in the Atlantic Division. The Wolfpack was well-prepared, well-coached and put in position to succeed. Expect more of it under Doeren, especially as he brings in his own recruits. NC State's biggest problem wasn't Clemson -- it was itself, with nine penalties and a turnover.

What it means: The ACC still has a national title contender. For years, the ACC has been its own worst enemy, as Florida State and Clemson have been notorious for losing games they shouldn’t (See: vs. NC State 2012, 2011, 2010). This was the classic trap game for Clemson, but the Tigers avoided the upset, didn't "pull a Clemson" and, in the process, protected the ACC’s improved image -- and its hopes of producing an undefeated team.

ACC's best moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
It was a rough year for the ACC, but in retrospect, there were too many highlights to narrow it down to 10. From Blair Holliday’s return, to the ACC’s impressive performances during bowl season, to individual performances and games, the conference had plenty of memorable moments in 2012.

The following is a list of 10 moments and memories that best captured the 2012 ACC season, according to ACC fans are bound to have more, and we’d love to hear them. What did we miss? Feel free to drop us a note in the mailbag, and we’ll highlight the best nominations in a separate mailblog. Until then, here are your top 10 moments from 2012, starting with the best:

1. Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: It was the ACC’s biggest win of the season, and the highest-ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win against No. 8 LSU, and it was the highest-ranked SEC team an ACC team has beaten in the past nine years.

2. Duke becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 1994: Sean Renfree's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left lifted Duke past North Carolina 33-30 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree converted three third-and-longs during the game-winning, 87-yard drive.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Bob Donnan/US PresswireGiovani Bernard's 74-yard game-winning punt return to lift UNC past rival NCSU was a play to remember.
3. Giovani Bernard versus NC State: Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left, helping North Carolina stun rival NC State 43-35 to end a five-year losing streak in the series. That day, Bernard also ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and had eight catches for 95 yards.

4. Karlos Williams' tip and interception in the ACC title game: In what turned out to be the final game for FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, FSU's D came up big against Georgia Tech, and no play was bigger than Williams'. The game wasn't decided until Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining. It was FSU's first ACC title since 2005.

5. The ACC posting its first winning bowl record since 2005: With marquee wins over LSU and USC and a victory in the Discover Orange Bowl, the ACC finally came out on the right end of bowl season, and will enter 2013 will some much-needed positive momentum. The Noles took another step toward national relevance with a 31-10 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl -- their first BCS bowl win since they beat Virginia Tech in 2000.

6. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance versus Clemson: It was Manuel’s one true Heisman moment of the season, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 380 yards while rushing for another 102 to become the first Seminoles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game.

7. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounts for eight touchdowns: The ACC Player of the Year set school and ACC records when he scored five passing and three rushing touchdowns in a 62-48 win over NC State. The Tigers gained 754 yards and ran 102 plays, the most in school history. Boyd was responsible for every Clemson touchdown. Boyd was 30-for-44 for 426 yards and ran for 105 yards -- the combined 531 yards set another school record.

8. Johnson leads Canes to Coastal title: In the regular-season finale against Duke, Miami freshman Duke Johnson rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards.

9. NC State’s game-winning TD in its upset of No. 3-ranked FSU. This isn’t a “best moment” for FSU fans, but it was by far one of the most memorable plays in the ACC and a highlight for the Wolfpack. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Oct. 6.

10. Duke receiver Conner Vernon rewrites the record books: In a 42-17 win against Virginia, Vernon surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. In the 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech, Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards.


[+] EnlargeBlair Holliday
Courtesy of Duke Sports InformationBlair Holliday (No. 8) walks with his Duke teammates in his return to the field following a terrible jet ski accident that sidelined the wide receiver.
So as not to trivialize these moments by tossing them in with touchdowns, here are three more memories you won't want to forget:

1. Blair Holliday joins his Duke captains for the coin toss against NC Central: It was a miraculous recovery, and the most inspirational story in the conference. Holliday, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski accident on July 4 that left him in critical condition, led the team on the Devil Walk in what was an emotional comeback for the entire team.

2. Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez leads the Tigers on Military Appreciation Day: The Army veteran led the team down the hill carrying the American flag prior to the Virginia Tech game on Military Appreciation Day at Clemson on Oct. 20.

3. The ACC adds Louisville: The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted to add Louisville to replace Maryland, a move that looked better and better as the Cardinals' football season ended with a win against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. ACC officials conceded the move was an athletics-first, academics-second decision, but it was one the conference should eventually benefit from.
When the season began, NC State receiver Quintin Payton knew he had a huge opportunity in front of him.

[+] EnlargeQuintin Payton
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireWide receiver Quintin Payton has stepped up his game big time for the Wolfpack this season.
He earned a starting job for the first time in his career, and he wanted to prove he deserved it. He has done so, leading the Wolfpack with 29 catches for 551 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging 71 yards per game to rank No. 8 in the ACC.

Consider that Payton had 11 catches for 145 yards receiving combined headed into this year.

"I knew that I had to play a different role for the team this year, just with me being one of the upperclassmen, so I took every opportunity that was given," Payton said in a recent phone interview. "I knew it was my turn to lead the receiver corps this season. So I just got more focused, and more consistent with the playbook."

Payton has two 100-yard receiving games this season to lead the Wolfpack, and also has been the team's leading receiver in four of seven games. He got a huge confidence booster in the season opener against Tennessee, when he had four catches for 129 yards. Against Florida State, Payton had 79 yards as well. He and Bryan Underwood have formed a nice receiving tandem so far this season.

Underwood is coming off a 134-yard game against Maryland, and leads the team with eight touchdown receptions. You can bet North Carolina will be focused on stopping these two players in the pass game come Saturday.

"He was the most experienced guy we had coming back from last year and from the start he was a guy Mike felt most comfortable with,” coach Tom O’Brien said. “He continues to make big plays, none bigger than the fourth down catch before the touchdown against Florida State. As we talked about at the start of the year with the new wide receivers, it was going to take some time. Everybody had to get on the same page. I go back to Coach (Troy) Walters coming in and that was a good move on our part, hiring a wide receiver to help these young guys progress at the rate they’re progressing.”

Payton also cited Walters as being a big reason why he has improved so much this year. Walters joined the Wolfpack staff in June, and is the first receivers coach O'Brien has ever hired.

"It's been great," Payton said. "He has a lot of knowledge about the game, played in the NFL for a number of years. He brings a lot to us and shows us little things the receivers have to do to get open."

Payton says he believes the Wolfpack are finally clicking on offense, after overcoming some injuries up front and at running back. The close call to Maryland last week also served as a confidence booster, he said.

"Things weren't going right for us in the game, and we still managed to play well enough to win," Payton said. "The defense came out and played great in the second half. On offense, we got some things going, too."

As for his own play, Payton says, "I feel like I've done pretty good. I feel I can play better as well. There are things I need to work on personally with my game, like staying low and getting in and out of breaks faster. Just little things."

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
Here is a look at what to watch in the ACC in Week 9.

1. Can Clemson break its Thursday night jinx? The Tigers travel to play Wake Forest Thursday, and one thing you will continue to hear throughout the day leading up to the game is how bad they have played on Thursday nights. Clemson is 1-9 in its past 10 Thursday night appearances, with its lone win coming at NC State in 2005. One of the more recent losses came to Wake Forest, 12-7 in 2008. That was the last win for Wake Forest in the series. You should also note that Wake Forest is 4-0 in Thursday night games on ESPN.

2. The best in North Carolina? The annual rivalry game between NC State and North Carolina has arrived. NC State, leader in the Atlantic, will try to extend its winning streak over the Tar Heels to six straight. North Carolina enters off a tough loss to Duke and is 0-2 against state teams this year, also losing to Wake Forest earlier in the season. Coach Larry Fedora wanted to get the attention of his players headed into this game so he had the locker room decorated in red. By the way, Duke has early bragging rights, with a 2-0 record against state teams; Wake Forest is 1-1. This is NC State's first game against an ACC team from North Carolina. The Wolfpack and Blue Devils do not play this year.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney will try to get Clemson a rare Thursday night win. The Tigers are 1-9 in their past 10 Thursday night appearances.
3. Can Duke compete with Florida State? Duke leads the Coastal Division while Florida State still has its eyes on winning the Atlantic, but the big question is whether or not the Blue Devils have what it takes to beat the Seminoles. Becoming bowl eligible has its perks, of course, but beating Florida State for the first time while retaining its lead in the Coastal would be huge. Florida State is 17-0 in the series and has won those contests by an average score of 50-16. Florida State's smallest margin of victory is 19 points -- winning 25-6 in 2007.

4. How does Maryland handle a new QB? The Terps have just been snake-bitten at quarterback, testing their depth at the position. Starter Perry Hills is done for the season with a torn ACL, leaving Maryland scrambling with a real shot at bowl eligibility. Coach Randy Edsall hasn't said who will start, but he is expected to play Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe. It's not as if Maryland has a reliable ground game to help out -- though Wes Brown had a great game last week with 121 yards and a touchdown.

5. Does that mean Boston College has a better chance at its first FBS win? The Eagles have had their share of struggles, but they are the favorite over the Terps in Las Vegas. They are at home for the first time since Sept. 29, and they are facing a team with major questions at quarterback. Still, coach Frank Spaziani has had to deal with his own questions about his future. Losing a very winnable game will only make those questions grow louder.

6. Run D vs. Run O in Atlanta. The game between BYU and Georgia Tech presents your classic matchup between one great rushing offense and one great rushing defense. In this case, Georgia Tech ranks No. 3 in the nation in rushing offense, and BYU ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing defense. The Cougars were a few plays away from upsetting Notre Dame last week, but they have really struggled to find any consistency on offense this year. BYU ranks No. 87 in the nation in scoring offense, and that could play right into the hands of a Georgia Tech defense making strides in its reconfigured scheme.

7. Can Michael Campanaro help Wake Forest? The Deacs have really struggled offensively since Campanaro went down with a broken hand against Duke. Last week, they had 213 total yards of offense in a win over Virginia, their fewest in an ACC win since 1966. In the past two games without him, Wake has scored 30 total points. So coach Jim Grobe is hopeful that a less-than-100 percent Campanaro is better than no Campanaro at all.

8. North Carolina secondary vs. Bryan Underwood and Quintin Payton. The Tar Heels are going to have to keep an eye on Underwood and Payton. Underwood has caught a touchdown pass in a school-record seven straight games. Underwood has 22 catches on the season, but eight of them have gone for scores. Payton, meanwhile, leads the team in receptions and yards and has come up with huge plays for the Wolfpack.

9. Florida State without Chris Thompson. The Seminoles have lost their leading rusher for the season, a big blow when you consider just how well he had been playing in his return from a broken back. But coach Jimbo Fisher is confident in the depth behind Thompson, and will rely on Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Lonnie Pryor to shoulder the load. Florida State did fine with Freeman and Wilder against Miami, but there's no question the Noles were much more effective rushing the ball this year with Thompson in the lineup.

10. Bowl watch. NC State (5-2) becomes bowl eligible with a win over North Carolina; Boston College (1-6) will officially be eliminated from bowl contention with a loss.