NCF Nation: Deshaun Watson

Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Clemson Tigers

Position to improve: Running back

Why it was a problem: Clemson was a balanced offense in 2014, rushing an average of 39.3 times per game -- trailing only Georgia Tech, Boston College and Pitt in the ACC. The problem, however, was the success on those plays was limited. The Tigers averaged just 4.1 yards per carry on non-sack rushing attempts, which was the sixth-worst mark among Power 5 teams. The five teams that were worse finished a combined 19-42 for the season.

How it can be fixed: Clemson already started to see gains on the ground in the latter weeks of the 2014 season. Redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman stepped into the starting role and produced far better results, topping 100 yards in three of his last six games. Still, Clemson averaged just 4.5 yards per carry as a team during that stretch and converted less than 40 percent of its third-down attempts on the ground. Getting healthier should help those numbers though. Adam Choice, Tyshon Dye and Zac Brooks all missed significant time in 2014. Having a healthy Deshaun Watson at QB should make a difference, too. Cole Stoudt struggled to stretch the field with his arm, allowing opposing defenses to stack the box against the run. Watson, on the other hand, was one of the most dynamic downfield threats in the country. When defenses are forced to respect Watson's arm -- not to mention his scrambling ability -- there should be far more opportunities for the Tigers to move the ball on the ground.

Early 2015 outlook: As with so much of Clemson's 2015 outlook, a lot depends on the health of Watson at quarterback. When he was in the lineup in 2014, the Tigers looked dangerous on offense. When he wasn't, they struggled. He's recovering from a torn ACL this offseason, so his status for 2015 remains a bit unclear. But even if he's not 100 percent, there's reason to think Clemson's ground game should still take a step forward now that Gallman has a year of experience under his belt and the rest of the running backs figure to be healthier. The improved performance down the stretch in 2014 also offers plenty of room for optimism, and if Clemson's production on offense can be as balanced as its play calling was in 2014, the Tigers figure to have one of the ACC's most potent attacks.

Coaches pick out young players to watch 

January, 21, 2015
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A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

ACC all-bowl team

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It wasn’t the finest bowl season for the ACC, which won just four games, but there were still some strong performances. Here’s our 2014-15 all-bowl team for the ACC.

OFFENSE

QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)

Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days scored three of Georgia Tech's seven touchdowns against Mississippi State.
RB: Synjyn Days (Georgia Tech)

His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.

RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)

The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)

Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.

WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)

There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.

TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)

It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.

OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.

OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.

OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)

NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.

OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)

It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.

C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)

The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.

DEFENSE

DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)

McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/John RaouxGrady Jarrett's performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl helped Clemson limit the Sooners to just six points.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)

Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.

LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)

Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.

LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.

LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)

Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.

LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)

Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.

S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)

The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.

S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)

Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.

CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)

While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.

CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)

Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.

K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)

Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.

Overreacting in the ACC

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We live in a hot-take world, but sometimes hot takes are wild overreactions based on how we feel right now, this very instant! With that in mind, we take a look at some of the biggest overreactions in 2014, and why they were wrong.

Overreaction: FSU should have been left out of the playoff.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Gary Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsDalvin Cook and the Noles deserved their playoff spot, and they will be in the hunt for one again despite some personnel losses.
Why: This became a popular opinion after the Seminoles lost to Oregon 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. But the idea that an undefeated team from a Power 5 conference should have been left out of the playoff because a blowout proves it was undeserving is laughable. Let’s start with the most important point: Florida State won all of its games before the playoff began. Contrary to popular belief, the Noles actually played a good schedule. Nine of their opponents made bowl games -- all of them with the Power 5 designation. Those nine teams went 6-3 in their bowl games. Compare that to TCU, which played seven bowl teams. Those seven teams went 1-6 in their bowl games. Florida State ended up playing two teams ranked in the final top 15; TCU played one. Florida State played three ranked teams in the final poll; TCU played two. The Noles needed their backup quarterback to beat 10-win Clemson, which destroyed Oklahoma in the bowl game. Ask the SEC how easy it was to beat Georgia Tech in 2014. These points alone prove that Florida State played a better schedule. But critics want to complain that Florida State played too many close games and never really passed the eye test. That when the Noles played an elite team like Oregon, they fell apart and therefore showed they never beat anybody good. These are all specious arguments. Yes, Florida State played close games. But the last time I checked, Florida State WON all of those games. Since when is blowing out every opponent proof that you are more deserving? Last I checked, Oregon blew out nearly everybody on its schedule but ended up losing by 22 in the national championship game. That blowout is forgiven, but Florida State’s was held up as a cautionary tale for future unbeaten Power 5 teams that win too many close games? Bottom line: Florida State absolutely deserved its spot in the playoff. No logical case can be made otherwise.

Overreaction: Miami must fire Al Golden. Now.

Why: The frustration among the Miami fan base is completely understandable. Going 6-7 at Miami is never acceptable, especially given the talent on the 2014 roster. Losing four games to end the season is never acceptable. We could go on, but you get the point. We can all agree that this past season failed to meet everybody’s standards. But the vitriol and negativity surrounding Golden have reached nuclear levels in South Florida. The cupboard is not bare here, far from it. Given the NCAA sanctions cloud that lingered over Miami for more than two years, Golden deserves another shot at getting the Canes pointed in the right direction. Brad Kaaya looks better than any quarterback Miami has had since Ken Dorsey. Despite losing Duke Johnson and Clive Walford, the Canes return a bevy of skill players across the board, including Joe Yearby, Stacy Coley and Braxton Berrios. Defensively, there are high hopes for improvements on the line, and the secondary has a chance to be even better. Although the Canes took some tough losses this past season, they showed against Florida State how well they can play when they have the heart, desire and motivation to win. Golden must now get his players to give that type of effort every weekend. Because the talent is there -- talent Golden brought into Miami when there were serious doubts about the program’s future.

Overreaction: Week 3 ACC Power Rankings: Georgia Tech at No. 13.

Why: Georgia Tech needed a great escape to beat Georgia Southern after looking not so hot in its first two games, against Wofford and Tulane. So we buried the Jackets. But, would you look at that? The Jackets finished 11-3, so uh, yeah that was really, really wrong.

Looking ahead to 2015

Overreaction: Florida State will take a step back!

Why: Depends on your definition. 2015 could be the year somebody else wins the ACC, but nobody should count Florida State out, not for the foreseeable future. The Noles have to replace the heart of their team, but they also return plenty of talent in Dalvin Cook, Jalen Ramsey, Roderick Johnson and plenty of others. The schedule sets up for the Noles to win 10 games again. And given their recent domination over Clemson, there are no guarantees the Tigers will take the Atlantic back.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson spent his freshman season getting banged up, but he'll be back.
Overreaction: Deshaun Watson is injury-prone.

Why: Watson got injured three different times since arriving on campus last January, including a season-ending knee injury that will cost him the spring. Already, there are those wondering whether Watson can stay healthy for a full season. Take a deep breath, everyone. Watson has played only one year. Yes, he got hurt. But that happens to football players. Nobody is calling the Ohio State quarterbacks injury-prone. People said the same about Miami running back Duke Johnson, and he played a complete 2014 -- his best yet. Give Watson a chance.

Overreaction: Virginia Tech cannot compete for another ACC title.

Why: There are many who believe Frank Beamer’s best days are behind him after a third straight lackluster season. But Beamer and his staff think this year’s team will give them their best shot at winning the Coastal Division since 2011. All their best skill position players will return, as will quarterback Michael Brewer. The defense should be just as good, if not better, with the expected return of Luther Maddy and Brandon Facyson plus the emergence of Dadi Nicolas and potential All-American Kyle Fuller. There is little doubt the Hokies are a team to watch in 2015.
Florida State has won three straight ACC championships, but the Seminoles are not a lock to be the preseason favorites to win the league again in 2015.

This could be the season to catch the Seminoles -- especially with Georgia Tech and Clemson returning top-25 teams.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJustin Thomas and the Yellow Jackets will aim to defend the nation's top-ranked rushing offense next season.
Everybody knows what Florida State has done over the past three years to re-establish itself as a national program. The Seminoles will remain a national program in 2015, but they may not be as dominant as they have been, given all the players they must replace.

You thought having to replace 11 NFL players off the 2012 team was bad? At least the Seminoles had Jameis Winston coming in at quarterback, and returning standouts such as Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Lamarcus Joyner on defense.

Now, the Seminoles have to replace perhaps the best player in program history (Winston), the best receiver in program history (Greene) and the best tight end in program history (O'Leary). Not to mention four starting offensive linemen and at least two All-ACC defenders who have declared early, with up to two more on the way.

When it is all said and done, Florida State could end up getting at least another 11 players drafted. That would bring its three-year total to 29 drafted players -- more than the 26 players Miami had drafted off its heralded teams from 2001-03.

Not even a coach that has recruited as well as Jimbo Fisher has can easily reload after losing so many veterans that laid the foundation for multiple ACC titles, a national championship and a 29-game winning streak.

What could make the difference is quarterback. That remains a big uncertainty in Tallahassee. But Georgia Tech and Clemson return two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC -- both sure to earn preseason votes for ACC Player of the Year.

Justin Thomas had a breakthrough season for the Yellow Jackets, the catalyst for an 11-win season and what should be a top-10 final ranking. He has two more seasons in Atlanta. While it is true the Jackets lose terrific players in Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, Shaq Mason and DeAndre Smelter, the biggest key to efficiency and productivity in the Georgia Tech offense is its quarterback.

Thomas was terrific in his first year as a starter, becoming just the second quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in school history. He ranks No. 4 in the nation in QBR, a measure of how good a quarterback is on a play-by-play level. From a team perspective, Georgia Tech ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense and third-down conversions, No. 3 in time of possession and No. 7 in first downs -- all testaments to how well the triple-option worked this season with Thomas behind center.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson and the Tigers finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2014, and will likely be a preseason favorite to take over No. 1 in 2015.
At Clemson, we all saw the potential Deshaun Watson has -- provided he can stay healthy for an entire season. With Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and a host of other young offensive players returning, this offense has the potential to be as good -- if not better -- than the crew Tajh Boyd led a few years ago. The Tigers could end up being the top preseason choice in the Atlantic.

On the whole, the Atlantic Division should be tougher than it has been over the past few seasons. Louisville showed it is a team that has the potential to make some noise in the ACC in Year 1; NC State is vastly improved, and the last ACC team to hand the Seminoles a loss. Boston College has played the Seminoles close the past two seasons, nearly pulling the upset in Tallahassee a few months ago.

Of those three, the Cards and Wolfpack also return their starting QBs.

The ACC schedule will also be more challenging. The Seminoles swap Virginia for Georgia Tech from the Coastal, and the game is in Atlanta. So is their annual Atlantic showdown with Clemson. Already, those two games are setting up to be pivotal in the 2015 ACC race.

There is no doubt Florida State has plenty of talent in the pipeline. But whether the Seminoles will be able to put it all together for 2015 and play like a dominant force remains a question mark, leaving the door open for another team to raise the championship trophy.
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No Deshaun Watson? No problem for Clemson. The Tigers, playing without their star quarterback, had no trouble demolishing Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, scoring early on a long touchdown and utterly frustrating the Sooners' offense behind a smothering defensive effort to secure a 40-6 win, Clemson's third straight bowl victory.

How the game was won: Clemson's defense entered the game as the No. 1 unit in the nation, and Oklahoma quickly found out why. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. were dominant, utterly baffling Trevor Knight throughout and largely stifling freshman tailback Samaje Perine until the game was out of hand. But credit the Tigers' undervalued secondary, which helped create five turnovers in the game. Oklahoma racked up some yards as Clemson waited for the clock to run out, but the Tigers' 40-0 lead through the first three quarters was built on the back of a stellar defensive effort.

Game ball goes to: Cole Stoudt. It's hard not to feel good for a guy who had as tough a season as perhaps any quarterback in the country. Stoudt won the starting job at the end of the spring, but after a 1-2 start to the year, he was supplanted by Watson. When Watson went down with an injury, Stoudt was forced back into action and struggled badly while dealing with both a shoulder injury and confidence issues. His past two performances against Power 5 foes were dreadful, but he stepped up against Oklahoma, tossing a 65-yard touchdown on his first throw and never letting off the gas. Stoudt finished the game 26-of-36 for 319 yards with four total touchdowns and no turnovers. The future remains Watson's, which offers ample optimism for Clemson fans, but Stoudt's bowl win was an appropriate sendoff for a quarterback that had given his career to the Tigers.

What it means: It's another nice feather in the cap of the ACC, which has picked up a number of marquee wins this season. It's also a big win for Dabo Swinney, who has often taken a backseat to his high profile offensive coordinator in recent years. Chad Morris left earlier in the month for SMU, but Clemson's offense didn't miss a beat. It's also the 10th win of the season for Clemson, which marks the fourth straight year the Tigers have reached double digits. Only Alabama and Oregon have longer active streaks among Power 5 programs. It's also Clemson's third straight bowl win, all against teams that opened the season in the top 5.

Best play: The tone for the game was set early, when Stoudt hit Artavis Scott for a 65-yard touchdown on Clemson's first offensive play of the game. The Tigers never looked back, and Stoudt turned in the best game of his career in his final game.

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Viewer's Guide: Russell Athletic Bowl

December, 28, 2014
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Clemson is on the brink of a fourth straight 10-win season, but it will go to battle with a backup quarterback and big questions on offense. Oklahoma fell far short of expectations this year, but with its stars on offense getting healthier, the Sooners are still extremely dangerous.

Will Clemson send out its dominant senior class of defenders on a high note, or will Oklahoma turn in another breakthrough performance in a bowl game? Here are the storylines to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl:

Stoudt back at the helm: Cole Stoudt steps in once again as the Tigers quarterback after Deshaun Watson elected to have surgery on his injured knee. Given that Stoudt’s last two games against Power 5 competition included four picks and zero touchdowns, that opens some significant questions about whether Clemson can put up points. Adding more intrigue is the coaching situation for the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris departed for the head-coaching job at SMU, which means Tony Elliott will get his first crack at calling plays.

Healthy Oklahoma: When the Sooners fell to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, they were without starting QB Trevor Knight and lost star tailback Samaje Perine in the third quarter to a sprained ankle. Both players have had time to heal and should be on the field against Clemson, which certainly makes Oklahoma’s offense far more dangerous.

Perine vs. Clemson rush D: Despite sitting out the final quarter of the Oklahoma State game, Perine racked up 791 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his final three games of the season, making Oklahoma’s ground game one of the most explosive in the nation. On the flip side, Clemson’s D surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry this season -- the best in the nation -- and allowed just 10 touchdowns all year. While it does seem like a strength-on-strength matchup, it’s worth mentioning that when the Tigers played Georgia’s prolific running game in the opener, they allowed 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Getting to Knight: Clemson’s pass rush has been among the best in the nation the past two years. The Tigers had 44 sacks this season, which ranked fifth nationally, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. tormented opposing quarterbacks all season. To have that same success against Oklahoma won’t be easy, though. The Sooners surrendered just eight sacks all year, the second fewest in the country.

Gallman on the ground: He didn’t exactly finish the year with as much of a bang as Perine did at Oklahoma, but Wayne Gallman helped transform the Clemson offense down the stretch by finally giving the Tigers a consistent threat on the ground. Gallman had 516 yards rushing in Clemson’s last five games, and the Tigers’ ground game, which had averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in the first seven games of the season, upped that average to 4.8 over the final five. A strong game by Gallman and the rushing attack could take a lot of pressure off Stoudt.
Clemson made the right decision to have quarterback Deshaun Watson have surgery to repair his torn ACL, forcing him to miss the bowl game.

That matchup against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida, this month is one Watson can afford to miss, even if it means handicapping the offense for one more game.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson's Deshaun Watson will have about eight months in recovery time following ACL surgery before fall practice begins.
Because the most important contests loom ahead, with a promising 2015 season awaiting.

As coach Dabo Swinney explained, the earlier surgery date means Watson gains nearly one month in recovery and rehab time.

"Those 3 1/2 weeks will be critical in the back end," Swinney said in a recent interview. "We want to get him back for our summer skills and drills. We really need him to lead the squad through the summer. We want to do everything we can to get him back, and we feel pretty good we can meet that timeline so he can be ready to go before we start camp in the fall."

Watson will have about eight months in recovery time before the heart of fall practice begins. Swinney noted that two players who tore ACLs last spring, tight end Sam Cooper and former quarterback Chad Kelly, had their recoveries fast-tracked. Cooper had recovered just four months after his knee injury. He would have played in the opener against Georgia, but he broke his leg during pregame warm-ups.

Though it is hard to avoid comparisons, Clemson cannot afford to rush Watson and risk having him come back too early, because he means so much to the offense. That was plain to see this past season, when the Tigers looked like a hyper-charged version of itself with Watson behind center.

But Watson could not find a way to stay healthy as a true freshman, leading some to wonder whether he is injury-prone so early in his career. In the spring, he broke his collarbone and missed the spring game. After waiting his turn, Watson finally got the starting nod against North Carolina. Two games later, he broke his finger against Louisville.

When he returned a month later against Georgia Tech, he injured his knee on what looked like a routine run. Watson was able to play the season finale against South Carolina and lead a victory on the partially torn ligament. Because he played in that game, Swinney initially said Watson would be able to play in the bowl game.

But the timing did not make much sense for that to happen.

In the end, this turned out to be the first time Swinney has had his starting quarterback miss time because of injury.

"Sometimes you have some crazy things like that," Swinney said. "It’s just the game. You can’t play this game worried about that kind of stuff. Sometimes, you have some freak things. Had he hurt his finger on the left hand he would have never missed a snap. Or had he not been a quarterback, he wouldn’t have missed a snap, but because he was a quarterback, he really needed to throw the ball. It really wasn’t a big injury, it was just something he couldn’t do his job with.

"He’s never really been hurt his whole career. Sometimes you have some spells like that, but adversity builds a little character and toughness and makes you appreciate the opportunities when you are healthy. He’ll bounce back and be better than ever."

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

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

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

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

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

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

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

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

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

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

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

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

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

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

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

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

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

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

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

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

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

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

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

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

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

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
11/30/14
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Well, as rivalry weeks go, this is about as good as it gets for the ACC. And with that in mind, there’s plenty of competition for the helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech DL Dadi Nicolas: The Hokies needed a win to continue a decade-long streak of wins over rival Virginia, but more importantly, to get bowl eligible. Michael Brewer, Bucky Hodges and the offense did just enough to get the win in the end, but it was the defense that set the stage, and Nicolas was the star. He racked up nine tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and five QB hurries in the game, and Nicolas helped stifle the UVA running game to the tune of just 38 yards allowed.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and WR Artavis Scott: Watson’s passing numbers certainly looked a lot better Saturday thanks to his roommate. Scott took three short throws and raced downfield for big gains, finishing with seven catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Watson played on a torn ACL, as Dabo Swinney admitted after the game, but still accounted for four touchdowns. And most importantly, for the first time since 2008, Clemson toppled its in-state rival.

Georgia Tech RB Zach Laskey: The senior had never beaten Georgia, but he did his part to ensure it happened Saturday. Laskey ran 26 times for 140 yards with three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder that proved to be the difference in overtime. Of course, a big hat tip still goes to kicker Harrison Butker, whose 53-yard field goal as time expired sent the game to OT, and to D.J. White, who picked off Hutson Mason to seal the win.

Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Down both of its top two QBs, Louisville didn’t need to worry. Parker makes everyone look good. Kyle Bolin came on in relief of Reggie Bonnafon and connected with Parker three times for scores. Overall, Parker caught six passes for 180 yards to help the Cardinals knock off Kentucky. But a special helmet sticker also goes to Gerod Holliman, who sealed the game with an INT -- his 14th of the season, tying the NCAA record.

NC State QB Jacoby Brissett: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the Wolfpack thumping North Carolina, and Brissett was the star. He completed just nine passes for 66 yards, but threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground, while rushing for 167 yards in the win. Teammate Shadrach Thornton chipped in with another 161 yards and a TD, too.

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook: The storyline is getting awfully familiar. FSU falls behind early. Jameis Winston coughs up some costly turnovers. And then the freshman tailback saves the day late. It was more of the same against Florida as Winston slumped through four INTs, but Cook was spectacular. He rushed 24 times for 144 yards and caught two passes for 28 yards. Overall, Cook had eight plays of 10 yards or more in the win.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd: The Panthers needed a win in Miami to get bowl eligible, and Boyd did all he could to ensure it happened. He caught five passes for 72 yards and scored on an all-out dive for the end zone. He also added 190 yards in the return game to set Pitt up with terrific field position throughout the game. The end result? Two 6-6 teams headed in completely opposite directions.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 14

November, 29, 2014
11/29/14
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We learned plenty in the final weekend of the regular season.

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

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

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

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

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

Watson has practiced this week, mostly with the second team, after spraining the LCL and suffering a bone bruise in his left knee in a Nov. 15 loss at Georgia Tech, an injury that kept him out of this past Saturday's game against Georgia State. The true freshman missed four other games earlier this season after undergoing a procedure to heal a small broken bone in his finger on his right (throwing) hand that he suffered Oct. 11 against Louisville.

ESPN's No. 1 quarterback from the Class of 2014, Watson has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes this season for 1,197 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has added 187 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground.

The Tigers host the Gamecocks at noon ET on Saturday.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
11/28/14
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It seems like just yesterday we were kicking off the ACC season, but here we are at the finish line. Week 14 may be the end of the regular season, but there’s still plenty of intrigue -- from crucial rivalry showdowns to three teams playing for bowl eligibility. Here’s what to watch for.

Friday, 8 p.m.

Virginia at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #UVAvsVT

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

Saturday, noon

Georgia Tech at Georgia, SEC Network, #GTvsUGA

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

Kentucky at Louisville, ESPN2, #UKvsLOU

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

South Carolina at Clemson, ESPN, #SCvsCLEM

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

12:30 p.m.

Syracuse at Boston College, ESPN3, #CUSEvsBC

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

NC State at North Carolina, ESPN3, #NCSTvsUNC

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

3:30 p.m.

Florida at Florida State, ESPN, #UFvsFSU

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

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Duke, ESPNU, #WAKEvsDUKE

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

Pittsburgh at Miami, ESPN2, #PITTvsMIA

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

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