NCF Nation: Devin Street

Pittsburgh Panthers season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Panthers:

Key returners: QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, RB Isaac Bennett, WR Tyler Boyd, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE David Durham, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Ray Vinopal

Key losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jason Hendricks

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd looks to build on a freshman All-America season.
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 versus Iowa, Oct. 16 versus Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 versus Duke, Nov. 15 at North Carolina, Nov. 29 at Miami

Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 63.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are a pair of freshman cornerbacks who will likely be counted on heavily to provide some needed depth at the position, as Titus Howard's season-long suspension leaves Pitt with just two returners with any experience at the position (Pitts and Trenton Coles). Both Maddox (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and Motley (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) arrived this summer as ESPN three-star prospects, and the learning curve will likely be accelerated as the Panthers search for more bodies in coverage.

High point from 2013: A 28-21 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 9 buried the Fighting Irish's remaining BCS bowl hopes and, at least partially, erased some of the sting from Pitt's consecutive three-point losses to them in 2011 and 2012. It's more useful, however, to look back at the 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green, as youngsters Voytik, Conner and Boyd all stepped up in a big way, something each hopes is a sign of things to come for 2014.

Low point from 2013: A 24-21 loss at Navy on Oct. 26 marked the first of a two-game slide (Pitt lost at Georgia Tech a week later), threatening to keep the Panthers out of postseason play before they pulled off the upset the following month over the Irish. Still, Pitt dropped three contests in a four-game stretch surrounding the loss to the Midshipmen, with its only win during that stretch coming against Old Dominion.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Voytik builds off his late-game experience from the Pizza Bowl and gives Pitt a dynamic threat under center, the experienced-but-shaky offensive line jells, Boyd continues his ascent and the defense makes big strides. Pitt takes advantage of a rather friendly schedule, makes a run at 10 wins and emerges as the champion of a Coastal division that is simply begging someone to step up.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offensive line continues to struggle, leaving Voytik vulnerable and the offense out of flux. The front seven fails to make up for the loss of Donald, allowing opponents time to test a green secondary. The Panthers win four games, taking a step back after consecutive bowl seasons in Paul Chryst's first two years. The youth on this team, however, is probably still enough to keep the future promising.

They said it: "I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh. You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that absolutely -- it's a great sports town but a heck of a football city. High school football is big on Fridays. Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday. We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the university and the tradition of a great university. I want the ex-players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it. But that's where we want to go, and that's what I mean, we're not where we want to be. But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity." -- Chryst, on how he defines Pitt football
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today's matchup is between Auburn’s wide receivers and Florida State’s defensive backs.

Auburn’s wide receivers: If there was ever a game for Auburn to stick to the run, this would be it. Quarterback Nick Marshall has struggled at times through the air and the Tigers are in for their most challenging test yet against a Florida State secondary that leads the nation in interceptions (25).

Expect a heavy dose of Marshall and Tre Mason running the read-option together like they’ve done all season.

Florida State still has to be wary of Auburn’s big-play ability. It starts with Sammie Coates who has emerged as a go-to wide receiver for the Tigers. He’s one of the fastest players in the SEC, if not the nation, and he leads the team with 38 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s second nationally in yards per catch (22.1) and all seven of his scores have come from more than 35 yards. It was his 39-yard touchdown grab in the final minute against Alabama that put Auburn in position to win that game.

The problem for the Tigers is that nobody has emerged opposite Coates. Freshman Marcus Davis had his moments early in the season, making key catches in critical situations. Ricardo Louis, who hauled in the 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Georgia, might be the most dangerous athlete on the team. But neither has been consistent.

When Auburn plays Florida State, it’s going to need a play in the passing game from somebody other than Coates. Whether it’s Davis, Louis or even tight end C.J. Uzomah, who’s healthy again, somebody is going to have to step up and make a play when their number is called. Nothing will come easy, though, against a talented Seminoles’ secondary.

Florida State’s secondary: Only five teams threw less often this season than Auburn, which runs the ball on 72 percent of its plays. When the Tigers do throw, however, they’ve mustered some big plays -- averaging 14 yards per completion.

The recipe for Auburn is pretty simple -- run, run, run, then go deep. It’s a plan that may run into some trouble against Florida State, however. The Seminoles’ secondary is the nation’s best for the second straight season. Lamarcus Joyner leads a deep and talented group that leads the nation in fewest yards per attempt (4.9), most interceptions (25) and lowest QBR allowed (18.1). Opponents have completed just 6 of 36 passes thrown 20 yards or more against them this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Coates and Louis both have good size to win some battles downfield, but Florida State can match that physicality with P.J. Williams (6-0, 190) and Ronald Darby (5-11, 190), who have both been exceptional this year. Darby has allowed just seven completions this year and allows the fifth-lowest completion percentage among AQ-conference defensive backs in the nation.

Marshall can keep some plays alive with his legs, giving his receivers a chance to get open downfield, but Florida State hasn’t been burned often this year. Sammy Watkins, Allen Hurns and Devin Street all found some success this season, which should provide a bit of optimism for Coates, but no QB has managed better than 7 yards per attempt against FSU’s secondary all year. In its last eight games, Florida State’s secondary is allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt with 6 TDs and 19 INTs.

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

Hale: Edge Florida State

Instant Analysis: Pitt 30, BGSU 27

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
9:45
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Pitt withstood the loss of quarterback Tom Savage and held off Bowling Green, 30-27, to win the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and clinch its first winning record (7-6) under second-year coach Paul Chryst. Here is how it went down.

It was over when: Chris Blewitt hit a 39-yard field goal to give Pitt the 30-27 lead with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in the game. Blewitt went 3-for-4 on the night and was 2-for-3 in the second half. On Bowling Green's ensuing drive, Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell came up with consecutive sacks of Matt Johnson to set up a fourth-and-40 with 31 seconds left. The Falcons' desperate, multi-lateral attempt from their end zone was entertaining for a few seconds, but it eventually ended with the Panthers taking over possession to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: James Conner was absolutely phenomenal for Pitt, carrying the ball 26 times for 229 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Conner broke Tony Dorsett's school record for rushing yards for a bowl game (202, set versus Georgia in the 1977 Sugar), with the true freshman accounting for nearly half of what he gained through 12 regular-season games this season (570). Oh, and as a pass-rusher on Bowling Green's final possession, Conner drew a crucial hold on Jacob Bennett that preceded Pitt's back-to-back sacks.

Stat of the game: Pitt outgained Bowling Green by a margin of 487 yards to 290. Considering that the Falcons entered the contest atop the Mid-American Conference in every single major defensive category (No. 8 nationally in total D), and considering that the Panthers were without their starting quarterback for much of the contest, and considering that Bowling Green was coming off a 574-yard performance at Ford Field in its previous outing, against Northern Illinois, this was nothing short of staggering.

Unsung hero: Chad Voytik stepped in when Savage went down with a rib injury and delivered a performance that had to have put a smile on Pitt fans' faces. The redshirt freshman completed 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards and carried it two times for 24 yards with a touchdown. Can't ask for much more than that.

What it means for Pitt: The Panthers exit Year 1 of the ACC era with a winning record, showing tangible progress under the Chryst regime in Year 2. More importantly, they closed out the 2013 season with young faces dominating the show. While Donald, Savage and Devin Street will all be missed, Voytik and Conner made big plays all night, and true freshman Tyler Boyd further cemented himself as one of the top receivers in the nation to keep an eye on moving forward, as he closed his rookie campaign with eight catches for 173 yards and a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means for Bowling Green: Forget about this and move forward. The Falcons had a wonderful season, winning their first MAC title in 20 years and ruining then-undefeated NIU's BCS-bowl hopes. Their coach, Dave Clawson, got the head-coaching job at Wake Forest for his efforts. (Adam Scheier served as interim coach for this game.) And while the defense will not like the way this season ended, there is plenty ahead to be excited about, especially on offense, as Johnson (20-of-32, 273 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers Thursday) returns for his redshirt junior season under new coach Dino Babers, whose quarterback lineage includes FCS player of the year Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (Baylor).

To watch the trophy presentation of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, click here.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl preview

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
9:00
AM ET

Pitt and Bowling Green square off at 6 ET Thursday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Here are a few players, keys and storylines to watch when action kicks off in Detroit:

Who to watch: Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald takes the field for his final college game after a regular season that saw him win four national awards and earn unanimous All-America honors, becoming the school's first player to gain that distinction since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Donald is capable of changing a game in a number of ways, disrupting the backfield (26.5 tackles for loss) while taking down quarterbacks (10 sacks). And the man he will be chasing, Falcons signal-caller Matt Johnson, is a dual-threat gunslinger who is coming off a statement win in the MAC title game.

What to watch: Bowling Green returns to Ford Field less than three weeks after winning the league title in a surprising rout over Northern Illinois. Johnson, its quarterback, completed 21 of 27 passes and tallied 426 total yards and five touchdowns in the 47-27 upset. In his first full season as a starter, the sophomore has completed better than 64 percent of his passes for 3,195 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Johnson has rushed for 268 yards and five more scores as well. The undersized Harrisburg, Pa., native did not receive an offer from the Panthers coming out of Bishop McDevitt, and a number of his Falcons teammates from Pennsylvania were overlooked by the in-state school as well. This has not been lost on them as they look to take down an ACC opponent before entering a 2014 campaign with very large expectations.

Why to watch: As good as Johnson has been, Bowling Green has gotten this far because of its defense, which leads the MAC in scoring D, total D, rushing D and passing D. That last category is one to keep a close eye on, as Pitt boasts a pair of extremely talented receivers in Devin Street and Tyler Boyd, both of whom senior quarterback Tom Savage developed an early rapport with in his first year as the starter, helping the Panthers get to another bowl in coach Paul Chryst's second season -- no small feat considering the step up to the ACC this year from the Big East. Pitt also has a signature victory over Notre Dame on its resume.

Prediction: Bowling Green 31, Pitt 26. With interim coach Adam Scheier at the helm, the Falcons offense gets off to a hot start and delivers a win that leads to plenty of hype entering Year 1 of the Dino Babers era in 2014.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
11:00
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Just two more weeks left in the regular season. But before looking ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTailback James Wilder Jr. rushed for two touchdowns on just three carries in Florida State's romp of Syracuse.
The good: There's not a whole lot not to like about another brilliant Florida State performance, as the Seminoles rolled to a 59-3 win over Syracuse to clinch a perfect ACC season. Jameis Winston (19-of-21 passing) was only needed for a half, and he got plenty of help from his supporting cast, with Karlos Williams making the most of his four carries (78 yards), Kenny Shaw adding 99 receiving yards on seven catches and the defense holding the Orange to 68 first-half yards on 30 plays. Those poor souls from Idaho entering Tallahassee this coming weekend for Senior Day ...

The bad: What happened to you, Miami? Just three weeks ago you entered a prime-time showdown at rival FSU riding high, undefeated, free of the NCAA cloud and ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings. You've lost three games since, the latest a 48-30 contest at Duke, which wrestled away control of the Coastal Division from you. You gave up 358 rushing yards to a team that entered averaging just 165.9 per contest. Fortunately, you have Virginia on deck this weekend for Senior Day.

The ugly: Speaking of Virginia, the Cavaliers have some company in the cellar of the ACC, as NC State lost again, this time a 38-21 contest at Boston College. The Wolfpack fell to 0-7 in ACC play for the first time in program history, and they are now guaranteed to miss a bowl game in Year 1 under Dave Doeren. Andre Williams did a lot of this to them, too.

The history: Williams keeps finding records to chase. This time the Eagles senior rushed for an ACC single-game record of 339 yards, giving him an ACC single-season record of 1,810 rushing yards on the season. The previous ACC single-game record was 329 by Wake Forest's John Leach in 1993 versus Maryland, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And the previous league single-season record was 1,798 by Virginia's Thomas Jones in 1999. Williams' 339 yards Saturday were the most by an FBS player in a game this season, though it was not the most across college football Saturday: That would belong to Cartel Brooks and his 465 yards for Div. III Heidelberg, a new NCAA record.

More history: Tajh Boyd broke Phillip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes, as he now has 97. And the Clemson quarterback had 340 passing yards in Thursday's win over Georgia Tech, leaving him one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record of 18.

(We want) more history: OK, fine. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for four touchdowns, giving him 29 rushing touchdowns for his career, breaking the previous school record of 28, set by Tom Davis from 1941-44.

The fun and games: Hey, who doesn't like a game of Hangman? It's not like the end of the Florida State-Syracuse game featured anything more dramatic, anyway.

The consistently inconsistent: Pitt was thisclose to keeping Notre Dame out of the national title game last season. It then followed things up by laying an egg at UConn. The Panthers finally took down the Irish this year, so how did they respond? Naturally, by falling behind by 24 points in the second half in an eventual 34-27 home loss to red-hot North Carolina. Give credit to Pitt for mounting a furious comeback to tie the game, and to Tom Savage and Devin Street for playing hurt, but surrendering a pair of punt return touchdowns to Ryan Switzer did not help matters. The Panthers remain at five wins, with a game this weekend at the always-tricky Carrier Dome on deck before the season finale against Miami.

The celebration: Did you see how happy Randy Edsall was? Maryland finally got to bowl eligibility under the third-year coach, snapping a three-game losing streak by pulling off the overtime upset at Virginia Tech. This was a big deal for Edsall & Co., as evidenced by his oh-so-happy postgame demeanor.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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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.
It was one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in 2012.

Virginia Tech was ranked No. 13 in the country, heading to Pitt having won 13 straight true road games -- a 2-0 team facing an 0-2 Pitt team that had just lost back-to-back games against Youngstown State and Cincinnati.

None of it mattered. The Hokies got whupped.

It was a stunning 35-17 loss in which Virginia Tech was manhandled up front on both sides of the ball.

“We learned that Pittsburgh will pound you if you don’t play well yourself,” Virginia Tech coach Beamer said on Wednesday. “They had a lot to do with that, too – us not playing well. I’ve always been impressed with the kids in Pennsylvania. We’ve done some recruiting up there ourselves. I think there’s a toughness about those kids, and they do a good job of coaching ‘em up. You put that combination together and they’ve got talent, they’re tough, well-coached and they’re always going to be a team that’s tough for us to beat. They’ve beaten us the last four times we’ve played, so we know we have a great respect for Pittsburgh.”

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsFrank Beamer and Virginia Tech have learned the hard way that records truly don't matter when the Hokies and Panthers meet.
As they should: all five of Pitt’s wins in the series have come against nationally-ranked Virginia Tech teams – and the scene is set on Saturday for the Panthers to try and do it again.

The Hokies are ranked No. 24 this week, their first appearance in the Associated Press top 25 all season. Once again, Virginia Tech’s lunchpail defense is predicted to have the edge up front against a Pitt offensive line that allowed nine sacks against Virginia two weeks ago. This series, though, has taught us to expect the unexpected.

For whatever reason, Pitt has been a thorn in Virginia Tech’s side the past four meetings, mainly while the two programs were members of the Big East. This year marks the first time they’ll play as members of the ACC’s Coastal Division, and another Pitt win would put the Panthers squarely in the conversation to win the division. Right now, Virginia Tech and Miami are the only two teams left in the division that are undefeated in ACC play, as Pitt’s lone loss was to No. 11-ranked Florida State in the season opener.

Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller said defensive coordinator Bud Foster this week “harps on how the game went last year and how we can’t allow that to happen again.”

“It was definitely a disappointment,” Fuller said. “I know our guys are hungry, ready to come out and show that we’re a lot better. That happened last season. That’s over with. We just want to continue to build on what we have going on this season.”

Which is exactly why the Panthers’ are expecting Virginia Tech’s best shot.

“They’re a great team,” said Pitt receiver Devin Street, “but we’re definitely expecting them – especially how we played them last year – we’re expecting them to come out blazing, especially at home as well."

This is Pitt’s first trip to Blacksburg as a member of the ACC, but even as members of the Big East, the Panthers have had the Hokies’ number. The teams haven’t met in Lane Stadium since 2002, and Pitt won, 28-21. Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who is in his second season, said the staff hasn’t tried to use history as motivation.

“Each team is different, each year is different,” Chryst said. “None of that carries over. The focus has all been about this group, this year, this week’s opponent. I think Virginia Tech is playing well right now. They’re confident defensively, they’re getting into a bit of a rhythm offensively. In all three phases we’re going to be challenged.”

That was the case for the Hokies last year.

They were beaten soundly up front on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw one touchdown and three interceptions against a defense that managed just one sack and no turnovers in the first two losses. Pitt junior guard Matt Rotheram, who started against the Hokies last year, said both teams have since improved.

“You don’t want to look back at the last time you played and say, ‘Hey, we did good last time, we’re going to be good this time,” he said. “You’ve got to approach every single game like it’s the first time you’ve played them.”

Pitt’s win last year was a sneak preview of what was to come this fall, validation that the program could and would be a formidable opponent in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Street said those within the program aren’t content, though, with merely contending.

“It feels good but just from my standpoint and a team standpoint, we never want to settle at all,” he said. “We played Duke and Virginia, but we’re playing a 5-1 team who’s pretty good. Virginia Tech, this is going to be our true test to see where we’re really at. Florida State was a top team in the country, Duke and Virginia, they’re good teams, but Virginia Tech, they’re a better team. This is going to be a huge test as to where we’re at as a team.”

As a program, they’ve already passed that test -- four straight times.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:15
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The real fireworks come next week, when Clemson and Florida State face off in Death Valley in what figures to be the most compelling ACC game of the season. But there's a lot on the line this week, too, as the Tigers try to stay unbeaten and a host of once-promising seasons around the league are in need of salvaging after bad losses a week ago. Here are a few storylines to watch in Week 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
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Like the ACC, we went 7-0 with our picks last week. Andrea is now 34-4 through four weeks, while Heather is 33-5, but Week 5 brings one big disagreement.

On to the picks!

Thursday

Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0) at Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsGT. One of these teams has gone to the ACC title game every single year. Will the same hold true in 2013? Both teams come in off a short week and hard-fought wins, but this happens to be the ACC opener for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 8-1 in ACC openers, with the lone loss coming from Clemson in 2011. They also are good at beating the Jackets, winning three straight meetings and five of the last six. AA gives the nod to Virginia Tech this year based on the defense, ranked No. 5 in the nation. Bud Foster generally finds a way to slow down the Georgia Tech offense enough to give the Hokies a chance at the win. In the last two years, Georgia Tech posted rushing and total offense numbers below its season averages. The Jackets, meanwhile, looked sluggish for most of the day offensively last week against North Carolina. Virginia Tech is much better defensively and that is the difference. AA calls for an UPSET. Virginia Tech 21, Georgia Tech 20.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 24, Virginia Tech 21. The Hokies are coming off a triple-overtime win against Marshall and had a five-day turnaround to prepare for a completely different offense. Foster said he is going to be relying on the retention of his veteran defenders who have played against the spread option offense and have had success against it before. Georgia Tech, though, is No. 2 in the country in third-down conversion percentage, and while the Hokies’ D will do enough to keep them in this game, the offense will struggle enough again that this time it won’t be enough to win it.

Saturday

No. 15 Miami (3-0) at USF (0-3), noon, ESPNU. #MIAvsUSF. Only three seasons ago, USF upset Miami to end the regular season. But things have been downhill for the Bulls since then. USF is off to an 0-3 start for the first time in school history, in large part to its offense and its tendency to turn the ball over. Five times in three games so far, the opponents have scored defensive touchdowns. Penn State transfer Steven Bench gets the start at quarterback this week, while Miami plans to play Stephen Morris, working through a bruised ankle. Truthfully, Miami could win this game even without Morris.

AA says: Miami 35, USF 3

HD says: Miami 51, USF 10

East Carolina (2-1) at North Carolina (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #ECUvsUNC. East Carolina plays its second straight ACC opponent, having lost to Virginia Tech a few years ago. The Pirates run the same type of tempo offense the Tar Heels run so there will be plenty of no huddle in this game. What North Carolina coach Larry Fedora wants to see is better offense overall. He called the performance of the group in the second half of a loss to Georgia Tech "inept." Bottom line -- the Tar Heels are averaging more than 100 yards fewer on offense this year than last. North Carolina, in fact, ranks an unsightly No. 82 in the nation in total offense.

AA says: North Carolina 35, East Carolina 17

HD says: North Carolina 31, East Carolina 28

Virginia (2-1, 0-0) at Pitt (2-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsPITT. The Hoos cannot afford to get in a shootout with the Panthers because they do not have the type of offense that can keep up. What Virginia does have is a more aggressive defense that will try to ramp up the pressure on Tom Savage, rattling him enough so he has a more difficult time getting the ball to Tyler Boyd and Devin Street on the perimeter. Pitt has its own problems on defense it has to deal with, but Virginia is still trying to find its identity there with a consistent run game. Give the nod to the Panthers based on their offensive playmakers.

AA says: Pitt 30, Virginia 23

HD says: Pitt 28, Virginia 24

Troy (2-2) at Duke (2-2), 3 p.m., ESPN3. #TROYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils need to find a way to fix their problems on defense in a hurry after dropping two straight ACC games. The big key is limiting the explosive plays. In the loss to Pitt, the Panthers had 17 plays that picked up 25 or more yards. Troy does not have the same type of offensive skill players as Pitt, or even Georgia Tech for that matter. The Trojans also do not have anybody on their roster like Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who had nearly 300 all-purpose yards in the loss to the Panthers.

AA says: Duke 35, Troy 20

HD says: Duke 52, Troy 21

No. 8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #FSUvsBC. The Eagles had a bye to prepare for Florida State, along with the experience of playing against one of the best defenses in the nation in a loss to USC two weeks ago. But those combined may not really do much to help the Eagles in their upset bid. Here is a stat that sums up how good the Seminoles have been early: Through their first three games, 11 different players have scored touchdowns.

AA picks: Florida State 45, Boston College 13

HD picks: Florida State 35, Boston College 17

Central Michigan (1-3) at NC State (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CMUvsNCST. NC State coach Dave Doeren is quite familiar with Central Michigan, having played the Chippewas the last two years as Northern Illinois coach. He went 1-1 in those games. The key here is to see how the Wolfpack bounce back after a tough loss to Clemson last Thursday night. The last time they played a team they were favored to beat, they struggled with Richmond. The focus has to be better.

AA picks: NC State 35, Central Michigan 13

HD picks: NC State 31, Central Michigan 10

Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1) at No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WAKEvsCLEM. Wake Forest has not won in Death Valley since 1998. That streak is not going to end Saturday. The Deacs have too many problems on offense to keep pace with the Tigers, who are trying to get back in sync after an up-and-down performance against NC State. Two of the best receivers in the ACC will be featured in this game – Sammy Watkins and Michael Campanaro – but Vic Beasley could end up making headlines once again for the Tigers.

AA picks: Clemson 45, Wake Forest 10

HD picks: Clemson 48, Wake Forest 13

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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It was hardly the most exciting slate of games in Week 4, but the ACC provided plenty of big-time performances. Virginia had two tailbacks -- Kevin Parks and walk-on Daniel Hamm -- combine for 271 yards and four TDs. Nikita Whitlock tallied 14 tackles, including three for a loss, in Wake Forest's win over Army. Terrel Hunt continued to impress, accounting for five touchdowns in his first career start for Syracuse. And yet, none of them quite made the cut for helmet stickers this week.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: The history of NC State pulling the upset over ranked teams was well documented in the lead-up to the game, and the Wolfpack might have done it again if it hadn't been for Beasley's dominant work on defense. The Clemson defensive end racked up five tackles, three sacks, broke up two passes and -- three plays after NC State had a potential go-ahead score called back -- forced a fumble from QB Pete Thomas that turned the tide of the game. Beasley now has five sacks on the season -- just three shy of his 2012 total.

Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage: Handing out just one helmet sticker to a member of the Pitt offense after Saturday's 58-55 win is a tough task, but it's impossible to argue with Savage's final numbers. The senior QB completed 22-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, tying an ACC record. The six-TD performance hadn't been done by an ACC quarterback since 1999. He had plenty of help though. Tailback James Conner ran for 173 yards, receiver Devin Street caught six passes for 166 and freshman sensation Tyler Boyd had eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

Maryland's defense: Defensive back A.J. Hendy was the star, recovering two fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown in the 37-0 win, but there's plenty of credit to go around on the Terps' D. Maryland pitched a shutout against West Virginia -- the first time the Mountaineers had been held scoreless since 2001 -- while creating six turnovers. West Virginia had just 175 yards of offense, including a mere 62 from the passing game. Seven different Terrapins recorded a tackle in the backfield, three different players forced fumbles, and Maryland assured it will be undefeated for its Oct. 5 showdown with Florida State.

Georgia Tech running backs: North Carolina jumped out to a 13-0 lead early, but the Georgia Tech offense roared back with 324 rushing yards, 199 of which were delivered by Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Godhigh racked up a career-best 100 yards on just nine carries -- five of which went for first downs. Sims, meanwhile, tacked on 99 yards and two scores. The senior B-back scored on a 1-yard run for the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown, then rumbled in from 6 yards out to put the finishing touches on a 28-20 come-from-behind win that established Georgia Tech as a top contender in the Coastal Division.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: Perhaps it's breaking an unwritten rule by giving a helmet sticker to a player whose team lost, but it's hard to fault Crowder for the outcome. The junior did all he could to keep Duke in the game, recording 279 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. He became the first Duke player to record a rushing, receiving and special-teams TD in a single game since 1999.

Another bizarre day in the ACC

September, 21, 2013
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Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted reporters at his postgame news conference with quite an opening line.

"That was a bizarre game."

More like a bizarre Saturday in the crazy Coastal.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Gerry BroomePitt quarterback Tom Savage threw for six touchdowns and 424 yards in the win over Duke.
You thought North Carolina and Georgia Tech would repeat their high-scoring, record-setting game from last year? Nope. Duke and Pitt did their best to recreate that game in Durham, combining for 113 points and 1,130 yards of total offense in the Panthers' 58-55 victory.

What of Georgia Tech and North Carolina, you ask? Both defenses showed up today, but the North Carolina offense went missing after the second quarter as the Jackets reeled off the final 21 points to win 28-20 and jump to 3-0 on the season.

Then there was Virginia Tech. You want bizarre? A defense that held No. 1 Alabama to 212 yards of total offense gave up 21 points and 205 total yards in the FIRST HALF to Marshall before pitching a shutout the rest of the way in a 29-21 triple-overtime win.

Nothing ever seems to come easy in the ACC. Still, there were plenty of head-scratching moments for fans who have come to expect the unexpected.

They just so happened to play out in three early games going on at once, wearing out television remotes and Internet watchers toggling back and forth.

Let’s start with Pitt, Duke and this little nugget: Each quarterback -- Duke backup Brandon Connette and Pitt fifth-year senior/transfer Tom Savage -- had six touchdowns. Neither is known for his scoring proclivity. Pitt, in fact, went into the season with major questions on offense.

Savage had not taken a snap in three years, had questionable depth at running back and only one true playmaker in Devin Street. The defense, returning nine starters and a preseason awards candidate in Aaron Donald, was thought to be the strength.

But that is not how it is has played out for the Panthers this year. Against Duke, Savage made like Pitt great Dan Marino, tying an ACC record with a career-high six touchdown passes -- the first ACC QB to throw that many TDs in one game since 1999. Savage, mind you, had three touchdown passes to four interceptions and a mediocre Total QBR going into the game.

His performance may not have been the most impressive of the afternoon.

Freshman standout Tyler Boyd had 156 yards receiving and three touchdowns, while Street had a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns. The two have formed the best receiving tandem in the ACC to date. Running back James Conner had a career day, too, with 173 yards and a touchdown.

And yet, Pitt very nearly blew the game. After taking a 58-41 lead with 8:30 to go, Duke reeled off two touchdowns to close the gap to 58-55. But the Blue Devils could not recover the onside kick and were out of timeouts, and Pitt closed out the win. Jamison Crowder had a career-high 279 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort for Duke; Connette had four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, but he also threw a crucial pick-six that was one of the only defensive highlights for either team on the afternoon.

Both coaches had a hard time explaining what they saw unfold. Cutcliffe said, “I can’t really tell you too many more particulars until I study this game. There are so many bizarre parts to it.”

Plenty of bizarre parts to the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game, too. The Tar Heels moved the ball up and down on Georgia Tech with ease in the early going, reaching 20 points at the 9:18 mark of the second quarter. But they could not get any consistency on offense after that, and had the ball for only 7:39 in the entire second half. QB Bryn Renner had only five second-half completions.

There were several critical calls made by the officials that impacted the result, too. David Sims’ first touchdown run was reviewed after he appeared to lose the ball as he crossed the goal line. The call was upheld because the ball appeared to come out after he crossed the plane.

On another play, officials signaled that Vad Lee fumbled and North Carolina recovered. But it was overturned on review when it appeared Lee regained possession before his knee hit the ground. North Carolina had a costly penalty of its own, trailing 20-14, as a holding call negated an 82-yard touchdown pass from Renner to Ryan Switzer.

The North Carolina defense actually held its own, and did better than most anticipated. It was the offense -- the strength of this team -- that failed to do its part.

The offense failed in many ways for Virginia Tech, too. You might end up seeing that same line typed into blog posts for the remainder of the season. What was unexpected was the way Marshall kept the Virginia Tech defense on its heels for the first half.

The Herd used their fast pace to keep Virginia Tech off balance. Kyle Fuller, the most experienced cornerback in the secondary, gave up several big plays. The front had a hard time getting after quarterback Rakeem Cato. But it tightened up in the second half to keep Virginia Tech in the game.

Still, the Hokies were in serious danger of losing all the way up to the end. They tied the game with three minutes to go off a tipped pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Then, in -- what else? -- bizarre fashion, neither team scored in the first two overtimes. Virginia Tech, playing without suspended starting kicker Cody Journell, could not buy a field goal in a driving rain.

Logan Thomas finally got the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion -- Virginia Tech's first lead since the first quarter -- and the Hokies exhaled.

“Usually the flags are against us, the bounces are against us,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “But when you keep fighting, keep bringing the effort every single time, luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”

But for some reason in the ACC, bizarreness always seems to appear.
video

PITTSBURGH -- No. 11 Florida State overcame an early deficit to handily beat Pitt in the Panthers' ACC debut on Monday night. Here is a look at how the Seminoles won:

It was over when: Jameis Winston took the field. Partially kidding. Pitt scored on the opening drive, and that was about it for the Panthers. Winston, the redshirt freshman quarterback making his first career start, took over the game from there. Winston completed his first 11 passes and scored four first-half touchdowns -- three passing and one rushing. Winston left no doubt -- he has the talent to be a very special quarterback.

Game ball goes to: Winston. He was as close to perfect as you could be for a 19-year-old making his first start, with a national television audience watching. Winston ended up going 25-of-27 for 356 yards, with five total touchdowns and no interceptions. He set the Florida State record for most passing yards by a freshman in his first start.

Stat of the game: 3. Tight end Nick O'Leary set a career high with three touchdown catches. He and Winston had quite a connection working Monday night.

What Florida State learned: Winston is for real. Well, Florida State already knew that. The nation now knows after all the advance hype. After a shaky start, the Noles' defense recovered to post a good showing. You saw a much more aggressive group out there. It cost them a few times, allowing Pitt to make some big plays. But they also got after quarterback Tom Savage all night, not only sacking him but hitting him often. There were some blown assignments but you can see the talent in this group. They will only get better as they get more comfortable in Jeremy Pruitt's new defense.

What Pitt learned: The Panthers do have some talent at the skill positions. Freshman Tyler Boyd looks like he has the makings of being a special receiver. He and Devin Street are players to watch. But the defense really was a disappointment. A group that ranked in the top 20 in the nation a year ago returned the majority of its starters and yet, was completely out of position for most of the night. The secondary -- returning three starters -- did not play up to its potential, leaving Seminoles receivers wide open. If Pitt wants to make some noise in its first ACC season, it is going to have to shore up that defense in a hurry.

Five things: FSU-Pitt

September, 2, 2013
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The wait to get things started in 2013 was just a little bit longer for Pittsburgh and No. 11 Florida State, but they'll wrap up opening weekend with a prime-time showdown at Heinz Field Monday night (8 ET, ESPN). Here are five potential keys to the game:

Jameis Winston's debut: In all fairness, Pittsburgh fans get a first look at their new quarterback tonight, too, as Tom Savage makes his debut for the Panthers. But it's no discredit to Savage, who has earned ample praise from FSU's coaches and players this week, to say he's playing second fiddle to the freshman under center for the Seminoles. Winston was one of the most prized recruits in the nation two years ago, and the hype surrounding the multitalented quarterback has only built from there. He's a two-sport star, dominated FSU's spring game and beat out three other talented quarterbacks for the starting job. Now he gets to prove he's ready to live up to all the excitement.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesAfter months of hype, Florida State's Jameis Winston is set for his Monday night debut at Pittsburgh.
New look on defense: Florida State's defenders have spent the long offseason downright giddy about the changes new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought with him from Alabama. When FSU released its official depth chart last week, the personnel shifts were jaw-dropping. And yet Jimbo Fisher insists things won't be that different. Is he playing coy? It's hard to say much of anything about the new-look D until Pitt's offense takes the field, but based on the talk of fall camp, it certainly sounds like the Seminoles are planning to combat Pitt's massive offensive line with a dose of heft on defense, then bring the blitz early and often against Savage, who doesn't exactly bring much mobility to the table. If it's a transition that goes smoothly for FSU, it could mean fireworks. If there are hiccups, Savage is more than capable of exploiting them.

Elite receivers: Pitt receiver Devin Street's 73 catches led the Big East last year. He was third in yards with 975. Pitt considers him a legitimate All-America candidate, but Florida State safety Karlos Williams wasn't quite so generous, telling reporters that Street was "productive" but not great. The bulletin-board material grew from there, with Pitt players questioning FSU's secondary in response, and it's all added up to a little more excitement for a matchup that already had plenty of cachet. But perhaps the more intriguing question involves Florida State's receiving corps, which lost three seniors for the season, leaving just four wideouts with previous game experience.

Run the football: For all the intrigue in this game, one thing is clear: Both sides know how to feed an offensive line. FSU's group checks in at an average of 310 pounds. Pitt tops even that, closer to 314. Both units will be looking to throw their weight around in the ground game Monday night in hopes of making things a bit more comfortable for their quarterbacks. Florida State is led by juniors James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, both of whom topped 600 yards on the ground last year. Pitt's situation is a bit murkier. Junior Isaac Bennett and freshman James Conner both dealt with injuries in fall camp, and sophomore Malcolm Crockett could get plenty of playing time, too.

Big-game environment: The last game of the first week of the season might not be the marquee event, like Clemson-Georgia, but it sure doesn't lack for intrigue. From the two new quarterbacks to the trash talk between players, there's ample buildup. But it's also Pitt's initiation into the ACC, Florida State's first chance to defend its conference title, a national TV game in prime time, and a showdown the Panthers expect will result in a packed house at Heinz Field. So which team responds better to the energy and excitement? Will Winston be rattled by the rabid crowd? Will Pitt be energized by it? Florida State has played in its share of big games before, but plenty of pundits have already chalked this one up as a classic trap game for the favored Seminoles.

Pitt receiver Devin Street was always around this spring. He was there to give his teammates a ride, to pick them up, to take them to their tutor, to help with a team book report, to get in an extra lift in the weight room, and to set an example.

Street decided this offseason that he was going to be a leader -- and one of the best receivers in the country.

“I try to seize the day,” he said. “As soon as I wake up, I’m always trying to think of ways to better myself, whether it be in football or outside of football. The biggest thing as we go through everyday life is growth and opportunities and learning through things. That’s the biggest thing I’m going through right now. When I get over here, it’s a mindset where I’m coming in and going to work and really fine-tuning my game and being able to bond and spend time with the guys around here and just feed off of them and try to make this whole team better.”

With a new quarterback, a new starting running back, and new roles for the offensive linemen, Street has become one of the most recognizable faces of the Panthers’ offense. With the graduation of receiver Mike Shanahan, who played opposite Street last year, Street will be the focus of opposing defenses until another dependable receiver emerges.

[+] EnlargeDevin Street
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicAn inexperienced Pitt offense will be counting on receiver Devin Street for guidance in 2013.
He started all 13 games last year and led the team with 73 catches for 975 yards and five touchdowns. He finished second in the Big East in receptions per game and had three 100-yard receiving games. Despite those accomplishments, those within the program say there’s another level he can reach, and Street took steps this spring toward getting there.

“I think he’s a much better player right now than he was last year, and he’s a much better teammate and much better leader,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. “I think he’s had as much growth as anyone we’ve had here. You can see his approach to a practice or to a play. He provided that consistency and accountability. He didn’t do it with words, he did with actions and how he performs. I’m excited for him. I love his approach. He has the same urgency about what he’s doing and his own preparation, but also serving as an example, if it’s a matter of going in and digging out a guy on a block, you see him go after it with the same passion as when we’re calling his number in a pass route. From your senior group, that’s what you hope and that’s what he’s delivering now.”

Street was a second-team All-Big East selection last year but said his goals for this fall include surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark, winning the ACC, and finishing atop the national rankings in receiving.

“I’ve dedicated my life to this sport,” he said. “I think it would be crazy not to say you want to be the best at it.”

His teammates say he is getting closer.

“We compete every day,” sdefensive back K’Waun Williams said. “We’re always buttin’ heads. He definitely got better. He got faster, his routes are more crisp, and he’s become a leader on the offensive side of the ball.”

It’s a necessary role for a rookie offense that returns just six starters, including Street.

“I feel like with every great team -- you see the Pats, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick -- those are great leaders,” Street said. “The Ravens this year, look at those guys, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed. You just see it around. All of these great teams have great leaders, guys who know what to say. Of course a leader isn’t going to do everything right, but the point is to rally the troops. That’s why there are generals appointed in the military, things like that. When it comes down to crunch time, that guy has to take responsibility for his soldier or his team. That’s what I’m willing to do, whether it be negative or positive feedback. No one is bigger than the team, but there should be a leader who can bring it all together.”

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