NCF Nation: Bryn Renner

The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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On a week in which Florida State and North Carolina scored 80, Duke tied its all-time record with nine wins, and Pitt and the Tar Heels gave the conference 10 bowl-eligible teams, there's plenty of love to go around. Here are our helmet stickers for Week 13.

Duke QB Anthony Boone: After falling behind 14-0 to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils stormed back with Boone running the show. He completed 24-of-29 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns with another seven carries for 57 yards on the ground. Two of Boone's TD passes landed in the hands of Jamison Crowder, who caught 10 passes for 121 yards in the game. It was win No. 9 for Duke, assuring the Blue Devils at least a share of the Coastal Division title. Another win next Saturday against UNC gives them a berth in the conference championship game.

North Carolina's offense: My how things have changed for the Tar Heels. Granted, Old Dominion didn't present much of an obstacle, but North Carolina sure looks to be clicking on all cylinders with its fifth straight win. Marquise Williams threw for 409 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another 60, continuing to shine following Bryn Renner's season-ending injury. T.J. Logan ran for 137 yards and three TDs, and Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer combined for 242 yards receiving and three touchdowns.

Boston College RB Andre Williams: Ho-hum, another 200-yard game for the nation's leading rusher. Williams' spot in the helmet stickers has become a weekly occurrence, and he was dominant once again in helping the Eagles to their seventh win. Williams rushed 32 times for 263 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter that helped spark a late comeback. Williams also eclipsed 2,000 yards for the season -- the first FBS player to do so since UConn's Donald Brown in 2008.

Pitt DT Aaron Donald: A front-runner for the ACC's defensive player of the year award, Donald was the catalyst in getting Pitt bowl eligible with a 17-16 win over Syracuse. Donald had nine tackles -- eight solo -- including 3.5 for a loss. He had two quarterback hurries, and his blocked PAT proved the difference in the game. For the season, he has a national-best 26 tackles for loss.

Miami's defense: For the fourth straight game, the Hurricanes didn't look sharp offensively, but they managed a fairly easy win over Virginia thanks to a stellar defensive performance. Tracy Howard returned a pick for a score, David Gilbert rumbled 72 yards for a touchdown following a fumble recovery, and Miami's D finished with four takeaways in a 45-26 win.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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Florida State is now in full control of its championship destiny. Miami needs to get its act together. Duke is delaying interest in basketball season in Durham (OK, probably not) and several surprise teams are making their pushes toward the postseason. All that and more in our ACC weekend rewind:

The good: Let's face it: The ACC's surest path toward national respect is by winning it all, something it has not come close to doing in recent years. And, fair or unfair, the only way an ACC team was going to become a serious player in that title conversation this year was if Alabama or Oregon lost. So Stanford's Thursday night shellacking of the Ducks was surely celebrated by the folks of Tallahassee, Fla., who then watched their beloved Florida State Seminoles punctuate the weekend with a 59-3 stomping of Wake Forest. The formula is simple now for FSU: Just win, something the program has been doing with relative ease so far this season.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State Seminoles
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesFlorida State's defense throttled Wake Forest as the Seminoles continued their BCS title run.
The good, pt. II: Play the way the Seminoles' defense did Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., and you get a second category in your honor. They held the Demon Deacons' quarterbacks to a total QBR of zero for the game, the first time that has happened for a team in a game this season. They forced seven turnovers, picking off six passes while returning turnovers for touchdowns on consecutive plays. Wake Forest's three quarterbacks combined to complete seven passes to their own players, which was just one more than they completed to FSU defenders. As our David Hale noted, from the 7:15 mark of the first quarter to the 10:31 mark of the second, FSU ran four offensive plays and scored 28 points.

The bad: Miami entered Tallahassee last weekend as a top-10 team looking to make some noise if it could manage a respectable showing against the rival Seminoles. Two games later, and the Hurricanes have seen their Coastal Division frontrunner status fly away after consecutive losses to FSU and Virginia Tech, which turned three key Miami special teams gaffes into 21 points, resurrecting their own chances at making the ACC title game. Kudos to Logan Thomas for putting consecutive forgettable outings behind him by completing 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.

The ugly: Virginia's 45-14 loss at North Carolina was its seventh straight loss, its most in a single-season since 1981. The Cavaliers had little margin for error to begin with, but did themselves no favors by surrendering a pick-six and a punt return for a score to the resurgent Tar Heels, who have now won three straight games and are knocking on the door of bowl eligibility at 4-5 after a 1-5 start. Craig Littlepage has voiced his support for Mike London so far this season, but you have to wonder how much that will change with each passing loss.

The clutch: Sure, ruining Notre Dame's national title hopes in South Bend, Ind., last year would have been sweeter. But Pittsburgh's 28-21 home upset of the No. 23 Fighting Irish was nonetheless a high mark for the program, which recorded a signature win for second-year coach Paul Chryst and delivered the Irish's BCS bowl hopes an early knockout blow. Ray Vinopal keyed a strong defensive performance for the Panthers, coming up with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions and forcing a fumble early. Now Pitt is just one win away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining.

The hat trick: Andre Williams outdid himself in Boston College's 48-34 win at New Mexico State, as he broke the 200-yard mark for the third time this season. Williams set an Eagles single-game record with 295 yards rushing on 30 carries, including a go-ahead 80-yard score and a game-sealing 47-yard touchdown on the next possession. What more can you say about the senior? He now leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,471. His 163.4 rushing yards per game are also a national best, nearly 11 full yards per game clear of the No. 2 man, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey. BC is now 5-4, three wins past last season's total and, more importantly, a victory away from bowl eligibility.

The hat trick, pt. II: Duke redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards had a day for the ages, recording two pick-sixes -- one of 25 yards, the other of 45 -- on back-to-back NC State plays within 16 seconds of each other and returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the Blue Devils' 38-20 win, their fifth straight victory. Edwards became the first Duke player with two pick-sixes in a game since Leon Wright against Army in 2009 and became the first Blue Devil to return a kickoff for a score since Jabari Marshall against UConn in 2007. Edwards was named the national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation for his efforts. He added 10 tackles, too.

The brick wall: So, it's unlikely that anyone will confuse this year's Syracuse defense with 2011 Alabama, 2008 USC or any other greats of recent memory. But after losing to Georgia Tech 56-0 the Orange have been on a roll, pitching 113 straight minutes of shutout ball over the past two-plus games before Brad Craddock's 23-yard field goal got Maryland on the board with 1:10 left in the third quarter Saturday. That would be all the Terrapins could manage in a 20-3 loss to an Orange team now 3-2 in its first season of ACC play and 5-4 overall, just one win shy of bowl eligibility. Syracuse forced four turnovers and held Maryland to 292 yards of total offense, though the challenge gets amplified just a bit this weekend when it travels to Florida State.

The class act: Hats off to Marquise Williams, who became North Carolina's starting quarterback for the rest of the season after Bryn Renner underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Williams, normally No. 12, wore Renner's No. 2 in honor of the injured senior, and he completed 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards with two touchdowns and one pick while adding 46 rushing yards and another touchdown in the Tar Heels' win over Virginia. Oh, and he caught a 29-yard touchdown pass for good measure, with Quinshad Davis it to make Williams the first North Carolina quarterback to catch a touchdown pass since 1984, when Kevin Anthony did the same against Virginia.

The headaches: Good luck trying to sort out the potential scenarios for a Coastal Division winner after Virginia Tech's upset of Miami and Duke's win Saturday, which helped leave the division with four teams with two losses apiece. And good luck trying to sort out all of the possible bowl destinations for a number of ACC teams after a week in which conference newcomers Pitt and Syracuse inched their way closer to postseason play with upset wins to get to five victories apiece. Boston College got to five wins, too, while Maryland remains at five after the loss to the Orange. North Carolina is making a push at 4-5 and on a three-game winning streak, and there are already six bowl-eligible teams. So yes, there could be 11 teams bowling in the ACC this winter. Not bad.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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1. Florida State (9-0, 7-0; Last week: No. 1): The Seminoles reinforced their standing as one of the top two teams in the nation with a 59-3 win over Wake Forest, yet another game in which the starters were pulled in the second half. The offense did not have its best rhythm but defense and special teams earn A-pluses for their respective performances. Perhaps most impressive was the way Florida State took care of business without one hint of distraction.

2. Clemson (8-1, 6-1; LW: No. 2): Look who is sitting pretty for an at-large berth in the BCS? The Tigers were off Saturday, preparing for a Thursday night contest against Georgia Tech, a team that has given them trouble over the years. But if Clemson can beat the Jackets, FCS The Citdael and then South Carolina in the regular-season finale, another Orange Bowl appearance could very well be in order.

3. Miami (7-2, 3-2; LW: No. 3): We know. It does not seem logical to have the Canes remain at No. 3 after two straight losses. But they are the only other ACC team in the BCS standings (at No. 23). So they stay. For now. But their hold on this spot is precarious to say the least. The preseason favorites to win the Coastal are no longer in control of their destiny after a disheartening loss to Virginia Tech. Two weeks ago, Miami sat unbeaten and ranked No. 7. Now the Hurricanes need help. Big time.

4. Duke (7-2, 3-2; LW: No. 5): Just when things looked incredibly bleak against NC State, the Blue Devils reeled off 21 straight fourth-quarter points to win decisively. DeVon Edwards, with a kickoff return and two interception returns for scores, was honored as the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. Duke has won five straight, the second-longest streak in the ACC behind FSU. A win over Miami this Saturday would vault them to No. 3 in the standings.

5. Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2; LW: No. 7): It was gut-check time Saturday in Miami, and the Hokies showed they are not going down without a fight. After ugly offensive performances in its past two losses, Virginia Tech had its best showing in years, essentially doing whatever it wanted in a 42-24 win. The Hokies had a season-high 549 yards and Logan Thomas posted his second straight 300-yard game. The last time Tech beat a top-15 team on the road when not ranked was in 1989, a 12-10 at No. 9 West Virginia. We realize the Hokies beat Miami, but they did lose to Duke and BC -- a team not as good as Florida State, the only other blemish on Miami's record.

6. Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2; LW: No. 4): Trying to rank the Jackets, Virginia Tech, Duke and Miami could almost be considered an exercise in futility. Georgia Tech lost to the Hokies and Hurricanes, so it makes sense to rank those teams ahead. But they beat Duke early in the season and that should count, too. Georgia Tech has won three straight but has fewer wins than the three teams above. Ultimately, we will know much more about this group after its trip to Clemson on Thursday night.

7. Pitt (5-4, 2-3; LW: No. 8): Paul Chryst and the Panthers' program picked up a huge win over No. 23 Notre Dame on Saturday, right when they needed it. After a disappointing performance in a loss to Georgia Tech the week before, Pitt was firmly on the bowl bubble. But now, Pitt should have the confidence and momentum to win at least one more and keep its postseason streak alive.

8. Boston College (5-4, 2-3; LW: No. 6): The Eagles had a harder time than some expected on the road against New Mexico State, but they found a way to win the fourth quarter thanks to the incredible Andre Williams. The senior back scored the game-winning 80-yard touchdown and added another for good measure to finish with a single-game school record 295 yards rushing. It was Boston College's first road win this season and continued an exceptional turnaround under first-year coach Steve Addazio.

9. Syracuse (5-4, 3-2; LW: No. 10): The Orange are also on a winning streak after a 20-3 win over Maryland, inching ever closer to bowl eligibility. Syracuse is now 3-1 against Atlantic Division competition and above .500 for the first time this season. Jerome Smith had his third 100-yard game on the year as the Orange gained more than 200 yards rushing for the fifth time this season. Syracuse is 4-1 in those games.

10. North Carolina (4-5, 3-3; LW: No. 9): Watch out for the Tar Heels, who have won three straight after a 1-5 start and are making a serious push to make a bowl game. Marquise Williams impressed in his first start since Bryn Renner was lost for the season, and the defense has seemed to turn a corner, giving up an average of 14.3 points per game during this winning streak. Granted, two of those wins have come against the two worst teams in the ACC but you can see progress.

11. Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5; LW: No. 11): The outcome against Florida State was perhaps worse than some had expected, if only because senior starting quarterback Tanner Price was benched after throwing three interceptions. Backup Tyler Cameron was not much better, throwing three interceptions of his own. The Deacons have now scored three total points since Michael Campanaro was lost for the season. They might not win another game this year, with contests against Duke and Vanderbilt remaining.

12. Maryland (5-4, 1-4; LW: No. 12): Hard to believe the Terps began the year 4-0 with a Top 25 ranking. The wheels have come off since a 63-0 drubbing in Tallahassee, thanks in part to injuries at key spots on offense and defense. In a 20-3 loss to Syracuse, the offense was abysmal, with 292 total yards and four turnovers. The Terps still have bowl hopes, but given the way they have played in the past three losses, they could just as easily lose out.

13. NC State (3-6, 0-6; LW: No. 13): We thought there was a chance the Wolfpack would struggle this year with a new head coach, new scheme and a young team. But it is safe to say nobody anticipated they would be 0-6 in ACC play, pulling an oh-fer against in-state teams Wake Forest, North Carolina and Duke. The latest came in a 38-20 loss to Duke, in which NC State could not hang on to a fourth-quarter lead or take advantage of Duke's clearly struggling offense. The Blue Devils had four turnovers. But so did the Wolfpack.

14. Virginia (2-8, 0-6; LW: No. 14): What else is left to say about the Hoos? They have not even been competitive in their past two losses, falling to Clemson and North Carolina by a combined 104-24. David Watford was benched in the loss to the Tar Heels after throwing two interceptions, but it seems a little too late for that now.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done:

Boston College running back Andre Williams. The best rusher in the ACC topped himself in a 48-34 win over New Mexico State. Williams ran for a career-high 295 yards, setting the school single-game rushing record. Montel Harris set the old mark of 264 yards in 2011. Williams now owns two of the top three single-game marks in school history. His performance late in the game was outstanding. With the game tied at 34, Williams scored the game-winning touchdown on an 80-yard run. He added a 47-yarder on the next possession to officially put the game out of reach. Williams has three 200-yard games this season.

Duke safety DeVon Edwards. The redshirt freshman became the only FBS player in the last 10 years with three non-offensive touchdowns in a game in a 38-20 win over NC State. Edwards scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and then returned two interceptions for scores on back-to-back offensive plays. The 100-yard kickoff return tied for the second longest in Duke history. His 218 total yards ranks second all-time among Duke freshmen in a single game (Desmond Scott, 259 yards against Wake Forest in 2009).

Florida State defense. The Seminoles had perhaps the most dominating defensive performance in the ACC this season, forcing seven turnovers and scoring twice in a 59-3 win over Wake Forest. The Noles tied a school record with six interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown. Jalen Ramsey also returned a fumble for a touchdown, giving the Noles five defensive scores this season, tied for the most since 2007. Freshman safety Nate Andrews, making his first career start, had two interceptions (including the score) and forced the fumble Ramsey returned for the TD. Wake Forest had a Total QBR of 0, the only team this season with a team Total QBR of 0 in a game. Florida State has now forced a turnover in 14 straight games.

North Carolina QB Marquise Williams. North Carolina players dedicated their game against Virginia to quarterback Bryn Renner, lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Williams paid the ultimate tribute, wearing Renner's No. 2. He then went out and had a monster game, with passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the 45-14 win. Williams completed 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards; rushed 16 times for 46 yards; and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Quinshad Davis. He is the first Carolina quarterback to catch a touchdown pass since Kevin Anthony in 1984 -- against Virginia.

Pitt safety Ray Vinopal. The Panthers may not have beaten No. 23 Notre Dame 28-21 without Vinopal, who had two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter to key the impressive win. On the first, Vinopal intercepted Tommy Rees in the end zone to end one drive. On the second, he returned his interception down to the 5, setting up the game-winning Panthers score. Vinopal also had a forced fumble early in the game, making him solely responsible for all three Irish turnovers.

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. For the second straight week, Thomas had over 400 yards total offense. But in a 42-24 win over Miami, the number that stood out was zero. Thomas combined his terrific passing game -- 25-of-31 for 366 yards and two scores -- with no turnovers. That has been the familiar bugaboo the last two weeks, both losses. Thomas had eight turnovers next to his name. But against Miami, he had his best game of the season with his team's Coastal Division hopes on the line. Thomas came through big time.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Clemson and Georgia Tech have the weekend off. The other 12 ACC teams take the field for Week 11, which includes two nonconference contests, with one serving just slightly bigger than the other.

Here is what to keep an eye on as we enter the home stretch in the ACC:

1. FSU looks to avoid letdown: The Seminoles have a lot to lose the rest of the way, starting Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., where they lost two years ago. It is telling, in a good way, that the word "adversity" has been thrown around so much in regard to Florida State's most recent contest. It was a 41-14 win against a previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Miami team. And its quarterback, despite whatever criticisms were lobbied his way, finished with an adjusted total QBR of 94.6, sixth best in the nation for the week. If this team ever got its act together …

2. Wake adjusts to life without Campanaro: Wake Forest is without all-time leading receiver Michael Campanaro, probably for the season, after the redshirt senior broke his collarbone in a loss at Syracuse. Coach Jim Grobe was honest about how difficult things now are offensively without Campanaro, who, despite missing the first game of the season, had 67 catches -- or 52 more than Jonathan Williams and Sherman Ragland III, the Demon Deacons' next-highest catchers, with 15 apiece.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCan Marquise Williams lead North Carolina to a bowl game?
3. Marquise Williams' time at UNC: Bryn Renner's North Carolina career is over because of a detached labrum and fracture in his non-throwing shoulder suffered in a win over NC State. He had split plenty of time lately with Williams, who started the Virginia Tech game, but now it is the redshirt sophomore's chance to carry the Tar Heels to the postseason. They can inch a step closer toward with a win over Virginia that would make them 4-5. Williams has completed better than 60 percent of his passes this season for 537 yards with six touchdowns and three picks, adding 201 yards and a score on the ground.

4. C.J. Brown's return: Maryland is on the brink of its first bowl berth under third-year coach Randy Edsall, and the expected return of its quarterback should provide a big boost against Syracuse. Caleb Rowe has been so-so in Brown's place as starter, going 1-2. Brown's return after a concussion and then a "trunk injury" cannot come at a better time for a Terrapins team that has dropped three of four, though he will have to adjust to a receiving corps that has been decimated by season-ending injuries to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

5. Terps honor former Cuse halfback: Kudos to Maryland, which will pay tribute Saturday to Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was barred from the Syracuse-Maryland 1937 game because he was black. Orange players will wear No. 19 decals on their helmets in memory of Sidat-Singh, whose family will join both schools' athletic directors and Maryland pioneer Darryl Hill between the first and second quarters for an on-field tribute. Sidat-Singh had joined the Army after Pearl Harbor and was in the first graduating class of the group later known as Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed on a training flight in 1943 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

6. Duke looks to finish strong: Whether it is fair to criticize the Blue Devils' late-season slide last season, the fact remains that they went winless after clinching bowl eligibility in 2012. Things are different this time around, especially with a defense playing night and day from earlier this season and with the Coastal Division potentially up for grabs. Duke will need to keep its foot on the pedal as it comes off a historic win and a bye week to face a desperate NC State team that has dropped four straight and remains winless in ACC play.

7. Logan Thomas looks to rebound: Virginia Tech's redshirt senior quarterback was unusually defiant this week when speaking to reporters in Blacksburg, Va., about criticism that has come his way. Thomas had appeared to turn a corner midseason but his turnovers woes have bubbled to the surface these last two weeks, as he threw four picks in a loss to Duke and threw two more, and lost two fumbles, in a loss at Boston College. Still, a strong performance at a Miami team coming off its first loss of the season could play the Hokies right back into the thick of things in the Coastal Division race.

8. Crawford, Miami look to rebound: It's Dallas Crawford's time to step up, as the Hurricanes will turn to the redshirt sophomore first after losing Duke Johnson for the season. In looking to rebound from its loss No. 1 and maintain control of the Coastal Division, coach Al Golden said all three backs will probably see time in the first quarter Saturday against Virginia Tech. Crawford is expected to get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 294 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season.

9. ND-Pitt theatrics: Will it be like the four-overtime game from 2008? The ugly 15-12 contest from 2011, a game that, fittingly, featured 666 total yards of offense? Or last year's triple-overtime near upset? When the Irish and Panthers take the field, craziness ensues, and who knows what awaits a prime-time audience at Heinz Field in a game featuring two banged-up teams.

10. Pitt's offense looks to get it together: The Panthers defended the option well in recent weeks, holding Navy and Georgia Tech to 24 and 21 points, respectively. But the offense simply has to score points after breaking the 21-point plateau just once in its past five games, against Old Dominion (35). The run game in particular has struggled, tallying minus-5 yards last week against the Yellow Jackets, but the passing game could use some big plays as well.

ACC predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Heather got back at AA in Week 10, making the right call with Boston College over Virginia Tech and North Carolina over NC State. Bravo to a 5-1 week. AA came up 3-3, so we are all square again at 62-16 overall. Let's see what Week 11 has in store.

No. 2 Florida State (8-0, 6-0) at Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4), noon, ABC. #FSUvsWAKE. The Noles clinch a spot in the ACC title game with a win over Wake Forest. It is tough to anticipate this one being much of a game, especially with Wake receiver Michael Campanaro out. The Deacs did nothing offensively without him last week against Syracuse (a team that lost 59-0 against Georgia Tech), and coach Jim Grobe concedes he has nobody on his roster to fill those shoes. Not only that, Wake Forest has a run game that ranks last in the ACC. It is going to be a long day for the Deacs.

AA picks: Florida State 54, Wake Forest 6

HD picks: Florida State 48, Wake Forest 10

Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at North Carolina (3-5, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsUNC. The Tar Heels have gotten themselves back into bowl contention with two straight wins, but they must play the rest of the season without quarterback Bryn Renner. The good news is Marquise Williams has played in the past four games, so at least he has experience under center. More good news for UNC this week: UVa is a bad football team, having lost six straight games. The Hoos have given up more than 1,000 yards of offense in their past two losses combined.

AA picks: North Carolina 34, Virginia 17

HD picks: North Carolina 24, Virginia 14

Syracuse (4-4, 2-2) at Maryland (5-3, 1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsMD. As experts picking games every week, Syracuse has easily been the toughest team to predict throughout the entire season. One week after getting shut out at Georgia Tech, the Orange were the ones delivering the shut out to Wake Forest. Syracuse has won away from home just once this season and has yet to get any consistency out of the quarterback position. Meanwhile, quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy again for the Terps. Brown will be the difference in the game, and Maryland becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

AA picks: Maryland 23, Syracuse 20

HD picks: Maryland 24, Syracuse 10

Boston College (4-4) at New Mexico State (1-8), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsNMSU. The Eagles get to follow up their impressive win over Virginia Tech with a 2,300-mile trip to its first game in New Mexico. Ever. Not exactly the type of trek that a team from a power conference ever wants to make, let alone in November. Having said that, the Eagles have an opportunity to win for the first time on the road this season and inch closer to bowl eligibility against one of the worst teams in FBS. New Mexico State coach Doug Martin served as BC offensive coordinator a season ago, but there won't be much the Aggies can do to slow down Andre Williams. New Mexico State is giving up a whopping 312 yards per game on the ground.

AA picks: Boston College 35, New Mexico State 7

HD picks: Boston College 49, New Mexico State 6

NC State (3-5, 0-5) at Duke (6-2, 2-2), 4 p.m., ESPNU. #NCSTvsDUKE. Some anticipated NC State could struggle this year with a new head coach and so many veterans gone. But not many could have expected the Wolfpack to start 0-5 in league play and fall a notch below in-state rival Duke. Injuries have been a big culprit, but so has an inability to make plays with the game on the line. NC State has more quarterback drama to deal with as well. Duke, meanwhile, had a week to enjoy its win over Virginia Tech and bowl eligibility for a second straight season. The Blue Devils were not great on offense in that win, but expect a completely healthy Anthony Boone to bounce back.

AA picks: Duke 30, NC State 16

HD picks: Duke 45, NC State 14

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) at No. 11 Miami (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsMIA. Both teams come in off losses but remain in contention to win the Coastal Division. As Heather pointed out earlier in the week, it's gut-check time for both teams. The Hokies continue to have one of the best defenses in the country. It's the offense that has cost them in the past two games, as Logan Thomas has turned the ball over eight times. AA thinks Miami is going to struggle against this defense without Duke Johnson, and Thomas will redeem himself with a solid game. A solid game means Thomas won't have four turnovers. Miami has not won back-to-back games in the series since winning three straight from 2000-02. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Miami 20.

HD picks: Miami 28, Virginia Tech 17: Even without Johnson, the Canes will be able to run the ball with Dallas Crawford, and they’ll make fewer mistakes than turnover-prone Virginia Tech. The Hokies simply have too many questions marks on offense and not enough playmakers surrounding the embattled Thomas. Virginia Tech hasn’t fared well against ranked opponents, and that trend will continue on Saturday.

No. 23 Notre Dame (7-2) at Pitt (4-4, 2-3), 8 p.m., ABC. #NDvsPITT. It is really tempting to pick Pitt to upset the Irish given the recent history between the two teams and all the injuries Notre Dame has on its defense. But Pitt has done little to nothing offensively since its wild 58-55 win over Duke in September. In the five games since, Pitt is averaging 269 yards per game. Its run game has been nearly nonexistent. Against Georgia Tech last week, the Panthers were held to minus-5 yards rushing. Against Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Panthers managed a combined 31 yards on the ground. Pitt was able to run on Notre Dame last year. But it won't be able to this time around.

AA picks: Notre Dame 27, Pitt 20

HD picks: Notre Dame 24, Pitt 21

ACC predictions: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Week 9 was not kind to your ACC bloggers. We missed the same three games, going 4-3. AA keeps her two-game edge overall on HD at 59-13. Hopefully Week 10 will be kinder to us.

On to the picks!

Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1) at Boston College (3-4, 1-3), noon ET, ABC/ESPN2. #VTvsBC. Well, this one ought to be fun. Two of the worst offenses in the entire country square off -- No. 110 Virginia Tech vs. No. 108 Boston College. Those offensive struggles cost both teams last week in losses. Logan Thomas threw four interceptions against Duke; Chase Rettig threw for 57 yards against North Carolina -- which has the worst statistical defense in the ACC. If Rettig struggled that badly against the Tar Heels, what will happen against the No. 3 defense in the nation? Nothing has come easily for the Hokies on offense, putting extra stress on the defense to play nearly perfectly to win. AA says bank on the Virginia Tech offense and Thomas to play better. Not like an offensive juggernaut, but efficient enough to win. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 13.

HD picks: Boston College 24, Virginia Tech 21: The Eagles have home-field advantage -- and the edge on the ground. In a game that will feature two embattled quarterbacks, the difference will be the Eagles’ ability to run the ball consistently. BC is averaging 176.6 rushing yards per game; the Hokies are No. 105 in the country in rushing offense at 124.5 yards. Andre Williams leads the ACC and is fifth in the nation in rushing. He’s not going to have a career day, but he’ll have a good enough performance -- and Virginia Tech will make enough mistakes -- for the Eagles to win.

North Carolina (2-5, 1-3) at NC State (3-4, 0-4), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #UNCvsNCST. The Wolfpack have taken a bit of a nosedive in the month of October, losing three straight in some pretty disappointing performances. Their previous win? Sept. 28 against Central Michigan. Meanwhile, North Carolina seems reinvigorated after nearly upsetting Miami, then beating Boston College. The Tar Heels pulled out the win over NC State in one of the best ACC games last season. But AA is going with NC State in this one. The Wolfpack are going to be able to gain yards with their running game, and the NC State defensive front will do enough to keep Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams out of rhythm. North Carolina has not won in Raleigh since 2005. AA picks: NC State 30, North Carolina 27.

HD picks: North Carolina 35, NC State 21: The Tar Heels are simply the more talented of the two teams right now, they’ve got an NFL-caliber tight end in Eric Ebron, and they’ve got the edge at quarterback. UNC has started to play better on defense and has made fewer mistakes in each of the past two games. The 10 points allowed against Boston College on Saturday was its fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since a 44-10 win at Virginia on Oct. 16, 2010. North Carolina’s defense allowed just 59 passing yards, the fewest by an opponent since Clemson threw for 37 yards in a UNC win in Death Valley on Nov. 15, 1997. UNC will continue that progress against a Pack offense that is averaging just 23.6 points per game.

Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3) at Syracuse (3-4, 1-2), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #WAKEvsCUSE. The Deacs might have lost last week but they sure did put a scare into the No. 7 Hurricanes, leading for all but a few minutes. Wake is playing much better at this point compared to the beginning of the season, and all eyes once again are going to be on Michael Campanaro, who has double-digit receptions in three straight games. He needs six receptions to move into second place on the ACC's career list. Syracuse has been depleted in the secondary, so Wake Forest gets the edge there. The Orange looked miserable offensively the last time out against Georgia Tech. We don't anticipate a similar performance, but Nikita Whitlock and his teammates up front will do enough to disrupt the run game to get the Deacs closer to bowl eligibility. AA picks: Wake Forest 24, Syracuse 23.

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Syracuse 17

No. 8 Clemson (7-1, 5-1) at Virginia (2-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. #CLEMvsUVA. The Tigers have been slow out of the gate in their past three games and have not wowed anybody with their defensive play in the past two. Perhaps that all changes against the worst team in the league. Though Virginia did show signs of life in a loss to Georgia Tech last week, the fact that the Cavaliers scored only once off five Jackets turnovers tells you where this offense -- and this program -- stands. They can make a few plays here and there but for the most part, Virginia has been unable to take advantage of opportunities to win, and killed itself with too many mistakes and penalties. Because of the ACC's unbalanced schedule moving forward, this is the last meeting between the programs until 2020. AA picks: Clemson 38, Virginia 17.

HD picks: Clemson 41, Virginia 27

Pitt (4-3, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #PITTvsGT. The Panthers faced a similar offense last week against Navy, so they have some preparation under their belts. But they also lost the game, giving up two scores in the fourth quarter after taking a 21-14 lead. Meanwhile, the offense has struggled since putting up 58 points in a win over Duke in September. In the four games since, the Panthers are averaging 19.8 points a game. In two ACC games, they scored a total of 23 points. Georgia Tech has won two straight, and had three players go over 100 yards rushing last week against Virginia. The Jackets did have some defensive breakdowns and too many turnovers, but the previous time they played at home, they gave a near-flawless effort. AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Pitt 24.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 31, Pitt 21

No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #MIAvsFSU. Nobody is giving Miami a chance to win this game. Indeed, the oddsmakers are treating the Canes as if they are a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, installing them as 22-point underdogs. So does Miami have a shot? Only if the Canes can control the clock, play a power-run game and limit the big plays defensively. Easier said than done. The most concern for Miami has to be on defense, where the Canes lose every single matchup against Florida State. The Seminoles have the stronger offensive line; a talented and deep group of receivers; solid running backs; a Heisman Trophy contender in Jameis Winston; and a terrific tight end in Nick O'Leary. Given how UNC's Eric Ebron torched Miami, slowing down O'Leary has to be a top priority. He has the most red zone touchdown receptions (five) in the ACC. Miami might not be as good as its record indicates, but you can be assured the Canes will be amped for this game and keenly aware that they have been disrespected at every turn. That won't be enough to get them a win, but it will be enough for them to stay closer than everybody believes. AA picks: Florida State 40, Miami 24.

HD’s pick: Florida State 42, Miami 35

ACC weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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Another top-10 clash between undefeated teams is on the horizon. Before we get to that, however, we'll take a look back at how we got there in our Week 9 weekend rewind.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDavid Cutcliffe has Duke pointed in the right direction.
The good: Duke may deserve its own "great" category (more on that in a bit), but the ACC finds itself at the center of the college football world for the second time in three weeks. Florida State took care of business against NC State, Miami survived a scare from Wake Forest and here we go again, as the No. 3 Seminoles and No. 7 Hurricanes take aim for conference (and possibly national) supremacy. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee for the clash between the in-state rivals, marking the third time in 10 weeks that the show will originate from an ACC campus.

The bad: Pitt players used the words "complacent" and "overconfident" to describe the second half of their 24-21 loss to Navy, per the Post-Gazette's Sam Werner. What exactly the 4-3 Panthers were complacent or overconfident about is up for debate. Pitt lost a lot of leeway in its quest for another bowl berth, as it dropped a very winnable game and the chance to carry the momentum of a two-game winning streak into Saturday's trip to Georgia Tech. Navy scored 10 points in the final 3:52 to steal the victory. The schedule will be considerably more difficult for the Panthers down the stretch, as they face both Notre Dame and Miami over the final four weeks of the season. (On a positive note, congratulations to Devin Street for becoming the school's all-time receptions leader with 186.)

The ugly: Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times and still won at Virginia by 10, which should probably tell you all that you need to know right now about the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets escaped with the victory despite forcing just one turnover and holding the ball for nearly 10 fewer minutes than Virginia. Mike London took two huge gambles, first failing on an early fourth-and-1 try in field goal range and then calling a run play from the 1 with six seconds left that was stuffed for the last play of the first half. Georgia Tech, by the way, had Vad Lee throw the ball a whopping five times, completing three of those throws for 75 yards with no touchdowns and one pick. Kudos to the ground game, which had three 100-yard rushers, but this contest otherwise filled the "ugly" column capably.

The Blue Devils: Because really, what more can you say about them? Duke is 6-2 and likely going to a bowl for the second year in a row, which would be a school first. It is simply a remarkable feat for a program that, until last season, had not been to a bowl since 1994. The Blue Devils' 13-10 win over No. 14 Virginia Tech was their first victory over a ranked team since 1994, and their first road win over a ranked team since 1971. Hats off to David Cutcliffe for his rebuilding job in Durham, something everyone can appreciate a little more after seeing the coach get doused with a Gatorade shower following the stunning upset in Blacksburg.

Speaking of Tobacco Road … : About time, North Carolina. The Tar Heels finally put a complete game together, running over Boston College in a 34-10 win that ended a four-game losing streak. Bryn Renner was on point, completing 18 of 21 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. And the defense was stout, holding the Eagles to just 261 total yards of offense and limiting Chase Rettig to 10-for-20 passing for 57 yards. Maybe, maybe, things can open up a bit now for UNC, which is 2-5 but has a much easier second-half slate that should give it a chance to gain bowl eligibility, starting this week at NC State.

The refreshing take: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lifted his starters for most of the second half after a 42-0 halftime lead. NC State made the 49-17 final seem a lot closer than it was in the second half, but credit Fisher for why he would not put his starters back in: "I’m not going to go out there and embarrass this game and the integrity of how you’ve got to play. If that’s the way they’re going to do it, they need to re-evaluate. If they can’t tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that's bad for college football, in my opinion." FSU fell to No. 3 Sunday in the latest BCS standings. In State College, they probably wish the nation's No. 4 team had such perspective.

The quote: Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn, via The Virginian-Pilot's Andy Bitter: "What more can the defense do, really?" The Hokies held Duke to 198 total yards of offense, picked off four passes and held the ball for nearly twice as long as the Blue Devils. Credit Byrn for being more humble in defeat than defensive coordinator Bud Foster, though.

Mr. Reliable: Clemson went blue collar in its recovery from the Florida State loss, relying on fifth-year senior running back Roderick McDowell to help the Tigers escape Maryland with a 40-27 win. McDowell carried the ball 30 times for 161 yards, and the Tigers ran the ball 57 times for a season-best 247 yards. McDowell notched two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, his first two scores of the season. He lost one fumble, as did Sammy Watkins, but the Tigers were still able to impose their will on a defense that had been stout against the run.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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We have status quo in the top three this week. But there was plenty of shuffling in the middle of the pack. Again. Par for the course in the ACC.


1. Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC, last week: 1). The Seminoles remain in the hunt for a national championship after a thoroughly dominant win over NC State. Jameis Winston threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter -- the most pass yards in the first quarter of any quarterback this season. Another top-10 matchup looms this weekend, this time against rival Miami.

2. Miami (7-0, 3-0, LW: 2). The Hurricanes have had to overcome double-digit deficits in their last two games to stay undefeated. In fact, ESPN Stats & Information says Miami had less than a 25 percent chance of winning in the fourth quarter against both North Carolina and Wake Forest. Voila -- Miami beat the odds thanks to its run game and now has to face revved-up Florida State in Tallahassee.

3. Clemson (7-1, 5-1, LW: 3). The Tigers did not look pretty at times in their win over Maryland. But the key word in that sentence -- win. Clemson remained in the conversation for an at-large BCS berth thanks to solid performances from Sammy Watkins (single-game school record 14 catches), Rod McDowell (season-high 161 yards) and Tajh Boyd (15th 300-yard passing game).

4. Duke (6-2, 2-2, LW: 7). Congratulations are in order for the Blue Devils, who became bowl-eligible for the second consecutive season with a win over No. 14 Virginia Tech, their first win over a Top 25 team since 1994. It also happened to be the first Duke win over Virginia Tech since 1981. When you consider how badly the offense struggled throughout, major props go to a vastly improved defense that has put the clamps down in the second half in its last three games.

5. Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1, LW: 4). You could probably pick a lot of words to describe the Hokies' loss to Duke. Disappointing fits best, considering another stellar defensive effort was wasted in one of the worst offensive performances of the season. Logan Thomas threw four interceptions, ending a string of three straight games without one. The loss kicked Virginia Tech clear out of the rankings.

6. Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2, LW: 5). Welcome to the murky part of the ACC power rankings. Georgia Tech beat Duke earlier this year, but also lost to Miami and Virginia Tech. The Jackets also played a terrible game against Virginia -- turning the ball over five times -- and still managed to win. At this point, we have no idea which Georgia Tech team will show up every week.

7. Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3, LW: 8). The Deacs did lose, but they led Miami for nearly the entire game and played well enough to beat a top-10 team. Wake Forest is playing much better today than at the start of the season, and you can easily tell when you flip on the television. That is a big reason we have them here. Plus, they beat Maryland head-to-head.

8. Maryland (5-3, 1-3, LW: 9). After a 4-0 start, Maryland has lost three of its last four and is going to have to fight for a bowl spot. The Terps put up a valiant effort with just about every key offensive player on the bench against the Tigers. They get a week to rest before playing Syracuse at home. That game could get them to win No. 6, especially if C.J. Brown and Brandon Ross are healthy enough to return.

9. Pitt (4-3, 2-2, LW: 6). The Panthers lost on a last-second field goal to Navy, a team that Duke blew out earlier this year. They essentially let a winnable game against an average nonconference team slip from their grasp. These are the types of games ACC teams have to win. Pitt lost, and as a result has to take a tumble down.

10. Boston College (3-4, 1-3, LW: 10). We both thought Boston College would go into Chapel Hill and win. Instead, the Eagles lost 34-10, unable to find any consistency on offense against one of the worst defenses in the ACC. The bye week did not seem to do them any favors.

11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 11). Speaking of bye weeks, Syracuse was off after a demoralizing loss to Georgia Tech. We will see how the Orange regroup this week against Wake Forest, a game with major bowl implications for both teams.

12. North Carolina (2-5, 1-3, LW: 13). Congrats to the Tar Heels for picking up their first league win of the season. The two-quarterback system Larry Fedora is now using with Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams seems to be working, at least for now.

13. NC State (3-4, 0-4, LW: 12). The Wolfpack have lost three straight and are off to their first 0-4 start in league play since 2009. Coach Dave Doeren has had to deal with his fair share of injuries, but still, nobody expected this team to be winless in ACC play headed into November.

14. Virginia (2-6, 0-4, LW: 14). The Hoos have now lost five straight. How did this team beat BYU again? Virginia got career games from Darius Jennings and Tim Smith, five gift-wrapped turnovers from Georgia Tech, and still lost 35-25. It gets worse: They still have to play Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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The moment is almost here. Florida State-Clemson is the highlight of this weekend's ACC lineup, and of the conference's season. National title implications, Heisman Trophy implications and much more are on the line Saturday night in Death Valley. Here's what to look for in that contest and everywhere else in the league this weekend, which gets a head start tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C.

1. Miami's ball security. The Hurricanes are a top-10 team and 5-0. But an overlooked aspect through this start has been just how sloppy they have been with the ball in recent weeks. Miami has turned the ball over four times in each of its last two contests, and it needs to be sharper offensively coming out of the bye week as it faces a nearly desperate North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina hopes the return of Bryn Renner will help the Tar Heels get closer to their potential.
2. Bryn Renner's return. The UNC quarterback missed the Virginia Tech game two weeks ago because of a foot injury but will play against Miami. Marquise Williams was solid in Renner's spot and could see more time, but the Tar Heels need their veteran presence back as they look to shake the cobwebs from a 1-4 start and emerge from the bye looking more like the team that had Coastal Division title dreams entering Larry Fedora's second season. Their all-black uniforms -- part of their "Zero Dark Thursday" billing -- should be something to watch, too.

3. Terrel Hunt looks for breakout ACC performance. The Syracuse quarterback ran away with the starting job in strong outings against Wagner and Tulane, but he has struggled against Clemson and NC State. He threw for less than 100 yards in each contest, though he did rush for 92 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wolfpack. Still, Hunt must continue to grow and the offense has to continue to evolve after relying so much on the veteran ground game.

4. Georgia Tech D hopes for turnaround. The Yellow Jackets felt they turned a corner when they shut down UNC late last month to get to 3-0. But they have dropped three in a row since, giving up 38 or more points in each of the last two contests. Of course, throwing a pick-six in each of the last two games doesn't help matters, either, but Georgia Tech desperately needs a stronger performance from its defense to get back on track and be in position for a bowl berth.

5. C.J. Brown back leading Maryland. To be fair, Caleb Rowe played well last week against Virginia, but the Terrapins' offense operates at a different level with Brown in charge. Back from a concussion suffered at FSU, Brown will look to build off his nearly 64 percent completion percentage and help Maryland clinch bowl eligibility against Wake Forest, no small feat for a program that had just six total wins in coach Randy Edsall's first two seasons.

6. Duke's D looks to keep it going. The Blue Devils made a bit of a statement in their 35-7 win over Navy, their second straight game generating pressure up front. They will look to do that again this weekend against a struggling Virginia squad, though ACC offenses have not been kind to Duke in the past year. The Blue Devils have not won a league game since last Oct. 20 and have given up at least 38 points in every ACC contest since then.

7. Virginia looks for playmakers in the passing game. David Watford may have come of age at Maryland in defeat, but he needs some help from his receivers. Tight end Jake McGee leads the Cavaliers with 27 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but no receiver has reached the 20-catch mark. Virginia ranks 104th nationally in passing yards and must improve on offense after coming up just short against the Terrapins in a game that was closer than most expected it to be. The offense gave itself a chance at the end and did not give the ball away all game.

8. Can Pitt establish the run? For as much success as the Panthers have had through the air, their ground game has been M.I.A. through the season's first five games, ranking 105th nationally. They have tallied just eight and 23 yards, respectively, in their last two games against Virginia and Virginia Tech. Old Dominion and Navy these next two weeks should provide Pitt nice opportunities to gain some traction in the run game.

9. Famous Jameis' big moment. Everything about Jameis Winston says that he loves the spotlight. But the redshirt freshman sensation has never been tested the way he will Saturday night, as FSU's ACC and national title hopes rest on his right shoulder in the first major test of a career that looks destined for greatness. Can Winston handle the Death Valley atmosphere, and can he exceed the ridiculous expectations that have been placed on him since Week 1? He could be racking up some hardware if he plays anything like he has so far.

10. Spotlight again shines on Death Valley. "College GameDay" is back at Clemson for the second time this season in what is arguably the biggest regular-season game in ACC history. It's another chance for Tajh Boyd to make a Heisman stand, but the onus may ultimately fall on the Tigers' much-improved defense, which has a pass rush that leads the nation in sacks per game. The defense will look to do everything it can to rattle Winston early and solidify this squad as a legitimate national title contender with its second top-5 win of the season.

ACC predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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AA missed on her upset pick last week, and both of us missed the Syracuse upset over NC State. Heather won the week, going 5-1, and now we are tied 50-9 overall.

Let's see what Week 8 has in store.

Thursday night

No. 10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #MIAvsUNC. The Tar Heels host just the second Thursday night home game in school history, desperately hoping to turn around their season. They face a tall task against the surging Hurricanes, who are making their first trip outside the state of Florida this season. North Carolina has won four of the past six meetings, including an 18-14 victory last season. Quarterback Bryn Renner is expected back in the starting lineup, but the big question is whether this Tar Heels squad will find its running game against a much-improved Miami D that's ranked No. 12 in the nation in total defense. Miami should be able to put up some points on a shaky North Carolina D. It is just hard to imagine the Tar Heels being able to keep up. AA picks: Miami 35, North Carolina 21

HD picks: Miami 38, North Carolina 24

Saturday

Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsGT. This game most certainly has bowl implications for both teams as the second half of the season gets underway. The Orange have momentum on their side after a big road win over NC State last week, while the Jackets have dropped three straight. But those three losses have come against teams with a combined 15-3 mark. This is going to be a ground-and-pound type of game, and Georgia Tech gets the edge based on the scheme. Syracuse has put up monster rushing numbers in the past two games, but the Tech defense has allowed just five running plays of 20 yards or more this season and is in the top 25 in rush defense. So is Syracuse's defense, but I think the Jackets' run offense will be able to make more plays. AA pick: Georgia Tech 28, Syracuse 23.

HD pick: Syracuse 31, Georgia Tech 28: The Orange will win because of their ability to run the ball and control the clock -- the most effective defense there is against Paul Johnson’s spread-option offense. In a game that will feature two struggling quarterbacks in Vad Lee and Terrel Hunt, Cuse’s ground game will be the difference. Syracuse has rushed for more than 300 yards in each of the past two games and will continue that success on the road.

Maryland (5-1, 1-1) at Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2), 3:30 p.m, ESPNU. #MDvsWAKE. Quarterback C.J. Brown is back in the starting lineup -- great news for Maryland, which is trying to become bowl eligible. But injuries have started to take a toll on the defense. The Terps already lost starting cornerback Dexter McDougle for the season and now starting linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, who was playing very well before he got hurt last week. Maryland gave up more than 500 yards to Virginia Saturday, a team with no playmakers. While the Wake offense has been shaky at times, we saw much improvement last time out against NC State. Wake Forest has won three straight in the series at home. AA likes the Deacons in an upset: Wake Forest 24, Maryland 23.

HD pick: Maryland 28, Wake Forest 21 -- Brown's return to the lineup after missing last week with a concussion will be the difference in the game. The Terps’ ability to run the option and Brown’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback will make life difficult for the Deacs. Wake Forest has one of the ACC’s best receivers in Michael Campanaro, but Brown has more playmakers around him. The Terps will become bowl eligible for the first time under Randy Edsall -- and they’ll get it done in Winston-Salem.

Duke (4-2, 0-2) at Virginia (2-4, 0-2), ESPN3. #DUKEvsUVA. Duke has won four of the past five in the series and got a major boost when Anthony Boone returned to the starting lineup last week, earning ACC weekly honors. Boone made his first career start against the Hoos in 2012 and had four touchdown passes. Virginia, meanwhile, has looked a little better on offense the past few weeks, but it has not been able to get into the win column since Sept. 21. The defense has been inconsistent as well. Boone makes the difference in this game for the Blue Devils. AA picks: Duke 35, Virginia 28

HD picks: Duke 28, Virginia 24

Old Dominion (4-2) at Pitt (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #ODUvsPITT. The Panthers get a break from ACC play against Old Dominion, which lost to Maryland earlier this season 47-10. Pitt has worked on shoring up the offensive line and establishing the run game at practice this week. Believe it or not, it is the defense that has played more consistently the past several weeks. The Panthers really do need to get their run game going to help take some pressure off Tom Savage. AA picks: Pitt 40, Old Dominion 3

HD picks: Pitt 48, Old Dominion 7

No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #FSUvsCLEM. One of the biggest games in ACC history is nearly here, putting the spotlight squarely on the conference at the midway point of the season. We don't think either team will disappoint. The big story everybody has focused on pits Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but really, we should be talking about how each will fare against the best defenses they have seen to date. It may all come down to how they both handle pressure. Winston has been slightly better than Boyd in this respect, completing 69.6 percent of his passes when teams bring five or more pass-rushers. Boyd is completing just 57 percent of his passes in similar situations, and both his interceptions this season have come against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Winston has not seen a pass rush as good as the one Clemson has this season, nor anybody as talented as end Vic Beasley. Boyd, meanwhile, has been in these big-game situations before, so he gets a slight edge. Home-field advantage also gives the Tigers a big edge in the intangibles department. AA picks: Clemson 31, Florida State 30

HD picks: Clemson 35, Florida State 31

ACC weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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There were plenty of fireworks across the ACC this past weekend. There is now one fewer undefeated team, too. Here's a look back at the weekend that was in the conference as some teams reach the halfway point of their seasons.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston was unstoppable yet again, as the redshirt freshman is moving up Heisman watch lists.
The good: Jameis Winston and Tajh Boyd further solidified their standings among early-season Heisman Trophy contenders, and their teams now look destined for a collision course Oct. 19. Winston completed 23 of 32 passes for career-bests of 393 yards and five touchdowns, respectively. He also added 24 rushing yards in Florida State's 63-0 rout of Maryland. Meanwhile, Boyd completed 20 of 27 passes for 455 yards with touchdowns and two interceptions. The national spotlight will be on Death Valley once again in two weeks, as the game between the Seminoles and Tigers will have large implications in both the awards race and the national title race.

The bad: Virginia accounted for the ACC's lone nonconference loss Saturday, falling 48-27 to Ball State at home and again making its Week 1 win over BYU look more and more like a mirage. The Cavaliers were outscored 24-3 in the game's final 16 minutes as they fell below .500. Their normally stout defense surrendered 506 total yards of offense, a far cry from its stingy performance a week earlier in a 14-3 loss at Pitt. The Cavaliers remain just 0-1 in ACC play, but need answers fast if they hope to finish the season at .500 and go bowling.

The ugly: For as much credit as FSU deserves for its 63-0 rout of Maryland ... this game said plenty about the Terrapins, too. For one, they were ranked No. 25 coming in, and were 4-0. Secondly, they made all kinds of bad history. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Maryland was on the losing end of what is now tied for the largest margin of victory over a ranked team since the AP poll began in 1936. (UCLA beat No. 11 Texas 66-3 in 1997.) This was also the largest margin of defeat for any team in an ACC game in league play. Maryland entered the game No. 6 nationally in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. The Terps dropped to 22nd and 33rd, respectively.

The resurgence: Logan Thomas is beginning to look more and more like the Logan Thomas everyone expected from the Virginia Tech quarterback two years ago. And, more important, he has the Hokies looking like a viable Coastal Division contender. Thomas completed 19 of 28 throws for 293 yards against North Carolina, matching a career high with three touchdown passes in a 27-17 win to get to 2-0 in conference play. Thomas, who had miserable start to the season (48.5 percent completion rate, four touchdowns, six interceptions), has now churned out consecutive strong performances to open conference play, as he was coming off a win at Georgia Tech in which he started the game 9-for-9 and finished 19 of 25 for 221 yards and a touchdown.

The workhorse (again): Andre Williams just keeps going and going, and going some more. The senior helped Boston College eclipse last season's win total, as a 48-27 win over Army got the Eagles to 3-2 under first-year coach Steve Addazio. Williams carried the ball 30 times for career-bests of 263 yards and five touchdowns. The five scores tied Montel Harris' single-game school record. The 263 yards were one shy of Harris' single-game BC record, although Williams actually held the record for a very brief moment before losing a yard on his final carry of the game. Williams has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four of five games this season, and he now leads the nation in rushing yards per game (153.6) and total carries (133) while ranking third in rushing yards (768).

The in-state stand: Few would have argued entering Saturday that Wake Forest was the worst team in the ACC. But the Demon Deacons reversed course against NC State, getting a huge lift from Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro to pull off the 28-13 upset. Surprisingly enough, it was Wake's sixth straight home win against the Wolfpack, who have not won in Winston-Salem, N.C., since 2001, when Philip Rivers was their quarterback. NC State looked to have a favorable road ahead of it after a 3-1 start (and close loss to Clemson), but the Pack now find themselves in an 0-2 hole in conference play. The imminent return of quarterback Brandon Mitchell should provide a boost.

The slide …: When will it end for North Carolina? The Tar Heels have now lost three in a row, and their next game is next Thursday at undefeated Miami. Marquise Williams got the surprise start at quarterback in place of Bryn Renner (foot) and was stellar, but he and the Tar Heels offense turned it over to Virginia Tech three times while generating zero takeaways, erasing what was the best offensive output against the Hokies this season (376 total yards). A block-in-the-back penalty on what would have been an 82-yard Ryan Switzer punt return marked the third straight week UNC had a touchdown revoked because of a penalty.

… and the surge: Miami is up to No. 13 in the country after improving to 5-0 with a 45-30 win over Georgia Tech, placing themselves in the driver's seat, along with Virginia Tech, of the Coastal Division. What was impressive this time around was the way the Hurricanes recovered when down 17-7, as they went on a 38-6 run over a 37-minute stretch -- against a very good Yellow Jackets defense -- to seize control of the game and win their conference opener. The win was big for the Sunshine State too, as Saturday marked the first time all seven of Florida's FBS teams won in the same day.

Welcome to the ACC: Syracuse surrendered a touchdown 38 seconds into its first-ever ACC game and never really could keep pace with Clemson in its 49-14 home loss, the Orange's first home loss since the start of last season after six straight wins. Hopes of pulling off another big home upset (Louisville in 2012, West Virginia in 2011) were washed away fairly early. Terrel Hunt struggled against good competition, going just 8-of-24 for 52 yards with three picks, while Scott Shafer lost his cool on the sideline when Dabo Swinney went for it on fourth down up 28 in the second quarter, though Shafer apologized after.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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There were a few tweaks to the lineup this week. And congrats to Wake Forest, you got a promotion:

1. Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Tigers had no trouble playing in the Dome at Syracuse, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had another Heisman-worthy performance, throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns in just three quarters of a 49-14 win at Syracuse. Clemson faces a relentless Boston College team at home this week before the Oct. 19 showdown against Florida State.

2. Florida State (5-0, 3-0; LW: No. 2): The Seminoles’ defense was called into question this past week and it answered with a resounding 63-0 shutout of the Terps. It was a dominating performance in all facets of the game, and just what the Noles needed heading into their bye week as they begin preparing for Clemson.

3. Miami (5-0, 1-0; LW: No. 3): The Canes continue to find a way to win, and have established themselves as the team to beat in the Coastal Division. Miami’s 45-30 win over Georgia Tech sets the stage for a season-defining game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 9, but a Thursday night game against the struggling Tar Heels looms first. The Canes are on a bye this week.

4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0; LW: No. 5): The Hokies have now had two straight games in which quarterback Logan Thomas looked much-improved from a season ago, and it has made a difference. Virginia Tech's 27-17 win over North Carolina put the program back in the top 25 as it prepares to host Pitt his weekend.

5. Pitt (3-1, 2-1; LW: No. 6): The Panthers are coming off a bye week, but they’ve won three straight, including back-to-back conference games against Duke and Virginia. This will be their first road trip against a top-25 opponent, and while they’ve won the past four games in the series against Virginia Tech, they’re the ones with something to prove in Blacksburg.

6. Maryland (4-1, 0-1; LW: No. 4): The Terps came crashing back to reality with their humbling loss in Tallahassee, and they lost starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Maryland, but the schedule is conducive to a rebound if Maryland doesn’t let the Noles beat them twice. The Terps will face Virginia at home this weekend.

7. Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2; LW: No. 7): The Yellow Jackets started the season strong, but back-to-back Coastal Division losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have them on the outside looking in at the Coastal Division race. It’s not going to get any easier with a road trip to BYU this week, and starting quarterback Vad Lee has been inconsistent and turnover-prone.

8. NC State (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 8): The Pack just can’t seem to shake the curse of Winston-Salem, as NC State lost to Wake Forest for the sixth straight time on the road. It has been 12 years since NC State won at Wake Forest, and two turnovers contributed to it this season. The Pack returns home to host Syracuse this weekend.

9. Boston College (3-2, 1-1; LW: No. 9): Running back Andre Williams ran for 263 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-27 win over Army. The Eagles just don’t quit, and their ability to continuously run the ball through Williams has been their identity. They’re going to need more than that, though, to pull off the upset of No. 3-ranked Clemson this weekend in Death Valley.

10. Duke (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 11): The Blue Devils had a bye this week and are trying to string together back-to-back wins with another against Navy on Saturday. Having played Georgia Tech about a month ago should help the defense, considering they run similar option offenses.

11. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2; LW: No. 14): The Deacs finally got their offense going in a 28-13 win over NC State, thanks to quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. A little home-field advantage over the Pack never hurts, either. It was a big win that helped keep the Deacs’ bowl hopes alive. They’ve got a bye week to continue to get better before hosting Maryland.

12. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 10): The Orange had no answer for Tajh Boyd & Co., and they missed out on their own opportunities with mistakes like dropped passes, four turnovers and an inability to convert on third down. It wasn’t the introduction to the ACC Syracuse was hoping for, but the Orange has a chance to rebound this weekend at NC State.

13. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2; LW: No. 13): The Tar Heels have fallen far and fast, but we’d still pick ‘em to beat the Hoos right now, in spite of the fact they have the worst record in the ACC. The difference against the Hokies was three turnovers, and while backup quarterback Marquise Williams played a respectable game in place of injured starter Bryn Renner, it was his final pick in the fourth quarter that sealed it for Virginia Tech.

14. Virginia (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12): Virginia’s defense had been a highlight, until it allowed Ball State 506 yards. It lost 48-27 on Saturday to a MAC team -- at home. Virginia coach Mike London insisted this offseason that he’s not concerned about his job security, but it’s hard not to wonder if that sentiment has since changed.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
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Here’s a look at five lessons learned in the ACC this week, in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesQB Logan Thomas accounted for 279 yards of offense in the Hokies' win over Georgia Tech.
1. Virginia Tech is still a contender. Quarterback Logan Thomas, who was playing through an abdominal strain, had one of his best games in years in the 17-10 win at Georgia Tech and, in the process, helped validate the program as a contender again in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech’s offense had played so poorly that the Hokies needed three overtimes to beat Marshall the previous week. There was plenty of doubt surrounding the team as it headed to Atlanta to take on an undefeated Georgia Tech team that was No. 4 in the country in rushing offense. The Hokies were just 2-of-10 on third-down conversions and ran for just 55 yards, but it didn’t matter. They got what they needed from Thomas -- 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown and 16 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown -- and another stellar performance by the defense. The Hokies have won titles with that recipe before, and showed they can do it again.

2. North Carolina is on the bowl bubble. The Tar Heels were playing ECU, not Clemson, but you’d never know it by the score. UNC lost 55-31 in embarrassing fashion on their home field. ECU finished with 603 total yards, the second-highest total ever allowed by UNC at home. North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had another subpar performance, but the players around him didn’t help out much, either. There was plenty of blame to go around as UNC dropped to 1-3. They’ve got to win five more games to become bowl eligible, and they’re not going to win again anytime soon if they continue to play the way they did against ECU. Six straight conference games await, starting with a road trip to Virginia Tech on Oct. 5 and followed by Miami. The loss to ECU could be the beginning of a downward spiral for the Heels. Or, it could be a much-needed wake-up call. Either way, the margin for error is nearing nonexistent.

3. Florida State’s defense needs work. As expected, Boston College was well-prepared, well-coached and gave the Noles its best shot despite a 48-34 loss. As expected, BC relied on its running game and Andre Williams. Not expected: FSU didn’t seem ready for it. It was the most points FSU had allowed BC in the series' history. The Eagles jumped out to a 14-point lead, scored on all three of their opening drives, ran for 200 yards and converted 2 of 3 fourth downs. Williams finished with 149 rushing yards -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010. If FSU’s defensive line struggled against BC, expect more of the same next week against Maryland, and certainly on Oct. 19 against Clemson.

4. Virginia’s offense looks worse than last year. Pitt’s defense played better, but it’s hard to believe the Panthers improved that much just a week after allowing Duke 55 points. Virginia was simply inept on offense in the 14-3 loss, finishing with just 188 total yards, 3 of 18 third-down conversions and 1 of 4 fourth downs. Pitt’s Aaron Donald and the D had a little something to do with that, but so did quarterback David Watford, who completed just 15 of 37 passes. Last year, UVa’s passing offense was No. 37 in the country. This year, it’s one of the worst in the country. Watford has taken much of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles, as he is in his first year as a full-time starter, but there was plenty of blame to go around on Saturday.

5. Pitt is at home in the ACC. The Panthers now have won back-to-back games in their new conference and have a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Coastal Division if they can win at Virginia Tech next week. Pitt’s lone loss was to Florida State in the season opener. If they can escape Blacksburg with a win, the Panthers could be 6-1 heading into Atlanta on Nov. 2 for another key divisional game against Georgia Tech. With the win over Virginia, Pitt put itself right in the mix in its first season in the ACC. We’ll see how long the Panthers can stay there.

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