NCF Nation: Dwayne Allen

With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.
FLORIDA STATE

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.
MARYLAND

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
DUKE

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.
MIAMI

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.
NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?
PITTSBURGH

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will not be attending ACC media days, which begin Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., so I spoke with him on the phone Thursday to get his take on the upcoming season. Boyd played his way into the Heisman conversation last year after the Tigers’ 8-0 start, and he has a chance to do that again. Last year, Boyd set an ACC record for touchdown responsibility in a season with 38. He completed 298 of 499 passes for 3,828 yards, all school records. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes, and led the ACC in total offense (289.0) and passing yardage (273.4) per game and was fifth in pass efficiency (a rating of 141.2).

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What’s your outlook on the offense knowing there are questions up front you guys have to answer?

Tajh Boyd: I’m just excited for those guys to get out there and show what they can do. I’m really confident in this group of linemen and excited about this first game. We start off with a bang against Auburn, so it’s going to be competitive. We’ve got some youth out there, but those guys are ready for the challenge. They’ve been working hard all summer to prove themselves. It’s going to be fine.

How is this season going to be different for you?

TB: Just more experienced in the long run. We started off really good last year, but I think we have a better perspective on what to expect this season, and how to control certain obstacles. The big thing last year was not being consistent, the way we finish games, the way we start games. It’s been a really good summer so far. With the way guys have been pushing themselves, I think it could be a special season. We have to keep working and taking it one game at a time, but it comes down to how consistent we are.

What would you say is the biggest thing you learned from last season? You personally?

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Bob Donnan/US PresswireClemson quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for an ACC-record 38 touchdowns last season.
TB: Just going to compete every play. For me, it’s more about managing the game. I felt like sometimes it was to the point where I felt like everything was on my shoulders, everything was on my back. One of the things I have to understand, I always have to be able to manage the game consistently, be cool regardless of the situation, work and push the guys beside me. For me, it’s just game management.

In terms of executing the offense and being in the second season under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, how much smoother has the offseason been and do you expect it to continue to be this fall?

TB: That’s the exciting part about it, is that we’re able to improvise a little bit more. Me, the receivers, running backs. The line has a better understanding and grasp of the offense and things have been clicking. Last year we thought, we have to learn this as fast as possible. Now we’re taking our time with it, figuring out what we can improve on, and critiquing ourselves. It’s just been an awesome summer so far. I’m excited for camp to start putting some of these things to use and get ready for some of the new things we’ll put in as well.

What do you think you guys are capable of this year?

TB: It’s kind of hard to say until you get out there and do it, but I think we have all the capabilities in the world, to compete for whatever kind of championship we want to. But again, it’s all about being consistent and finishing. That’s one of the lessons we learned from last year. This team has no limits on what we can do. It’s just about how we prepare ourselves and how focused we are.

How much does it mean to you to play your way into the Heisman conversation?

TB: It’s definitely an honor just to be mentioned in a category like that. Growing up as a kid, that’s one of the things you hope for and dream about. But the team has to succeed in order for any individual accomplishments like that to come along. With the way we’ve been working this summer, who knows what we can do. Just being considered as an elite player like that is going to be awesome. I have to take things like that in stride.

Do you guys still talk about the Orange Bowl? Is that something you use as motivation, or have you done everything you can to try to forget it?

TB: You really can’t forget about it too much. Every conversation we have with a person outside the football program, that’s the first thing they ask about: How is the season going to be, are you still thinking about the Orange Bowl? My answer is, we’re going to use it as a factor, but it’s not always a present memory right now. You have to use all of the experiences you have and try to learn from them and grow from them, but at the same time, it’s not something we’re dwelling on right now.

What’s the biggest thing you need to do during summer camp to have a better season than you did last year?

TB: Just being the best leader I can be. Losing a guy like Dwayne (Allen, the tight end drafted in the third round by Indianapolis) and some of the guys like that, they had a big role in leadership and everything of that nature. The guys are going to have to be able to depend on me at all times. I’m prepared to do that at all costs. That and managing the game, taking what the defense gives me and having total control out there. You have to tune everything out.

ACC's top 10 moments of 2011

January, 12, 2012
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There were plenty of memorable moments in 2011, some amazing individual performances, and numerous records set. It wasn’t easy to narrow the list down to 10, but I gave it my best shot. Feel free to drop me a note in the mailbag with your nominations, and if I get enough good ones, I’ll do a separate post on Friday with your suggestions. These are the top 10 in my book:

1. ACC expansion. It was the morning after Florida State lost to Oklahoma and I was scrambling to wake up and get on a plane home when the ACC announced its decision to add Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league. It was an historic moment for the conference, and it was a strong, stable move in a time of great uncertainty throughout college football. A lot of things happened this season, but none affected the entire conference like this one.

2. Clemson goes 8-0 for the first time in 11 years. With a 59-38 victory over North Carolina, Clemson started 8-0 for just the fourth time in school history. That week, the Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the country in the BCS standings, and had a legitimate shot at playing for the national title.

3. NC State’s comeback over Maryland. It was the biggest comeback in school history and the second-biggest comeback in the ACC. NC State overcame a 27-point deficit to beat Maryland 56-41 and keep its bowl hopes alive. NC State trailed 41-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter before scoring six consecutive times. The Pack had 35 fourth-quarter points.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireLuke Kuechly of Boston College is one of five players to record 500 career tackles in ACC history.
4. Luke Kuechly wins it all. In a span of eight days, BC’s star linebacker won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and the Lott Trophy. He was a consensus All-American for the second consecutive season, and named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. His interception return for a touchdown against Miami helped the Eagles end the season on a winning note, and it was quite the encore performance for the NFL draft-bound Kuechly.

5. David Amerson’s record-setting Belk Bowl. The defensive back's two interceptions in the victory over Louisville broke the ACC’s single-season record and moved him into a tie for second place in FBS history for single-season interceptions with 13. He returned one 65 yards for a touchdown, and the other sealed the win on fourth down at the goal line.

6. Frank Beamer gets win No. 200 at Virginia Tech. A 17-10 victory over East Carolina on Sept. 10 gave Beamer his 200th win as head coach at his alma mater. Only nine other FBS coaches have won that many games at one school.

7. Sammy Watkins’ record-setting season. The true freshman was one of the nation’s most spectacular players, and he finished the season with school records for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. His reception total was second best in school history, and his 2,288 all-purpose yards were the second best in ACC history. His most memorable performance came against Maryland, when he racked up 345 total yards.

8. Logan Thomas’ game-winning touchdown run against Miami. It was one of the most memorable games of the season, and Thomas provided the highlight. With 56 seconds remaining in the game, Thomas ran 19 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 to help Virginia Tech beat Miami 38-35 on Oct. 8. He scored more touchdowns in that game (three) than he threw incompletions (two).

9. Virginia becomes bowl-eligible for first time since 2007. With a 31-13 win over Maryland on Nov. 5, the Cavaliers exceeded expectations in just the second season under coach Mike London. Virginia was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, but a four-game winning streak proved otherwise.

10. Two BCS bowl teams for first time. Had Virginia Tech or Clemson been able to do anything with these opportunities, this would have been much higher on the list. It almost didn’t make the cut, but you can’t ignore it -- especially considering how shocking Virginia Tech’s selection was and what kind of national news it generated. For better or for worse, most college football fans aren’t going to forget the year the ACC had two BCS bids.

Just missed the cut, in no particular order:

• FSU almost blanks Florida with 21-7 win

• Record crowd at the ACC title game

• Beating Auburn and Ohio State in Week 3

Dwayne Allen wins Mackey Award

• Wake Forest defensive back Merrill Noel tied for national lead in passes defended

• North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard becomes the nation’s leading freshman runner

• Florida State's Shawn Powell leads the nation in punting average

• Wake Forest upsets Florida State

• Georgia Tech’s big day against Kansas

• Maryland’s Labor Day uniforms
There are too many decisions still lingering to get an accurate feel for what the 2012 ACC race could look like, as players like Andre Ellington, David Wilson and Dwayne Allen have yet to announce whether they are leaving school early to enter the NFL draft. Those decisions should come soon, though (Wilson's is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Friday), but there are three teams that should be ranked in the top 25 polls heading into 2012: Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The question is how high, and those decisions will play a role in it.

All three of those teams should be considered favorites heading into 2012, regardless of who stays and who goes because of the young talent waiting in the wings and the recruiting classes that are currently being compiled, and also because of the quarterbacks. As I mentioned in the video from the Orange Bowl this morning, Clemson should be considered a front-runner to repeat as league winners despite the ugly loss to West Virginia, but Florida State's defense will likely earn it a lot of respect in the preseason polls. Once again, Virginia Tech's consistency will be a major factor in the votes of confidence in the Hokies.

Two teams not to sleep on: NC State and North Carolina. The Wolfpack finished strong, and Tom O'Brien can work some magic when his roster is at full strength. And Larry Fedora inherited a talented quarterback and outstanding running back. If he can fill some big shoes on defense, the Tar Heels could be a surprise in the Coastal Division race. Both Mike Glennon and Bryn Renner could be two of the ACC's best quarterbacks in 2012.

Two teams still snoozing: Maryland and Miami. Both of these programs have major issues to deal with. For the Canes, it's an ongoing NCAA investigation and the departure of eight offensive starters at last count. For the Terps, it's turnover on the roster, unhappiness with the coaching staff, and just general misery after a 2-10 season in Randy Edsall's first year. Aside from Miami's recruiting, there are few signs that either one of these programs will catch anyone by surprise in 2012.

Video: Clemson TE Dwayne Allen

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
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Heather Dinich talks with tight end Dwayne Allen about Clemson's future and his future.
West Virginia is going for its first 10-win season since 2007 in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson tonight. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Geno Smith. All eyes are going to be on both quarterbacks in this game, for obvious reasons. Clemson has made it no secret this week that its No. 1 goal is to get after Smith, in order to get him out of rhythm. This, of course, would limit the number of touches for 1,000-yard receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. A few teams have been successful at getting Smith off his game, and the front Clemson brings may have that capability -- with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson two of the more highly-rated linemen for the 2012 NFL draft. Branch had 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss this season, and could pose major problems. West Virginia has not been consistent on the offensive line this season, but there is some good news. The Mountaineers tend to play up to their level of competition. So getting to face a line as good as Clemson could mean an outstanding performance, which is the biggest key to getting Smith and his receivers going.

WHAT TO WATCH: West Virginia defense vs. Tajh Boyd. Much has been made about the two offenses in this game, but the defenses should not be ignored. West Virginia has made a pretty solid turnaround in the final three games of the season, allowing just 365.7 yards a game, turning up its pressure and playing much better pass defense. This group has been much more opportunistic as well. It most certainly will have to be against Clemson, a team that has fared much better in turnover margin. Tight end Dwayne Allen poses a huge threat, because he is like an extra receiver on the field, and West Virginia will be without starting safety Terence Garvin. At least the Mountaineers have experience going against an up-tempo team. Can they keep up the momentum from the end of the season?

WHY TO WATCH: Everybody loves offense, right? And everybody loves the battle for supremacy between the Big East and ACC, right? OK maybe not the latter, but there should be plenty of fireworks in this one, and plenty of NFL talent on this field. Plus, this could be West Virginia's final game as members of the Big East. If that is indeed the case, you can bet the Mountaineers will want to do nothing but go out on top.

PREDICTION: West Virginia 35, Clemson 30. Yes, I realize that West Virginia is going to be without several of its starters, including Garvin and Dustin Garrison. But I also think this is a team that found its way in the latter part of the season, and will not be denied. Simply put, West Virginia refused to lose, and every part of this team willed itself to victory against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. Folks are focusing on the offenses; but West Virginia is better overall on defense and that makes the difference in this game.

WVU must slow down Dwayne Allen

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The inevitable question was asked to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen: Any lessons learned from what Nick Provo did to the defense back in October that can be applied to Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen?

"You had to bring up the Syracuse game," Holgorsen said.

[+] EnlargeDwayne Allen
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesContaining tight end Dwayne Allen will be a big challenge for the West Virginia defense.
Well, yes. We had to bring up the Syracuse game. Provo had his best game of the season against the Mountaineers, catching six passes for 61 yards and three touchdowns. The way Syracuse continued to run the same play to Provo certainly was vexing for fans as they watched the game, as it seemed West Virginia could not get a handle on Provo.

Now comes Allen, the Mackey Award winner as the best tight end in the country and one of the highest-rated prospects heading into the 2012 NFL draft. West Virginia has not played anybody as good as Provo since the Syracuse game, so this will be a gigantic challenge for the defense.

"If anything we can look back at that, and if he's an eligible receiver you probably ought to cover him, and I think we've got a lot of good work on that," Holgorsen said.

Allen, at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, is a major matchup problem for any team. Want to know what he does well?

Everything.

"He runs like a wideout," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He blocks like a tackle and has really improved in other parts of his game as far as running with the ball after the catch, his flexibility, and he's got great ball skills, and he's got a high football IQ. So you put those things together, you're going to get a very, very good football player. He's tough and aggressive, likes to play. The moment is never too big for him. And he practices hard, studies and prepares.

"You put all that with just the physical gifts he's got. He's a great player. It's hard for people to match up with a guy like that. I mean, what do you do? Do you play nickel the whole game? Match up a little guy on him? Put a linebacker on him? He's just a tough guy for defensive people to deal with, and you'd better know where he is."

During his media availability earlier in the week, Allen knew exactly who Provo was, and said he had studied that game tape. But he also said he didn't think it was fair to judge West Virginia on that one game because it happened so long ago.

"That can be a bit misleading," he said. "[Provo] created mismatches, but that was in a loss. Teams look at that, correct their mistakes."
ACC blogger Heather Dinich has the height and weight advantage, but Big East blogger Andrea Adelson is a shifty little back with elusive speed. Today they go head-to-head to determine who will have the better conference this bowl season. The ACC has been dogged time and again for its losing record in bowl games, which extends back to 2006, but the Big East has been the joke of the BCS conferences this year. The two conferences will square off this bowl season in two bowls, as NC State (7-5) will face Louisville (7-5) in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), and Clemson (10-3) will face West Virginia (9-3) on Jan. 4 in the Discover Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). If you thought the NC State-Cincinnati game was ugly this season, brace yourself for this catfight …

Heather Dinich: I would love to entertain you all day, AA, but the truth is there really is no argument here for the Big East. In fact, I almost feel bad for you. Almost. I’ve got two teams in BCS bowls and you’ve got, well, West Virginia -- a program that loves its conference so much it’s already got one foot in the Big 12. The Big East was so good this year that its best nonconference win came against Notre Dame by a South Florida team that finished 1-6 in the league. Now, I will give you this: The ACC and Big East enter bowl season tied at 3-3 this year, thanks to wins by Syracuse (ahem, in overtime with Wake’s quarterback injured), West Virginia (you and I could beat Maryland) and Cincinnati (I’ve got nothin’). There’s no reason, though, that the ACC shouldn’t come out 2-0 against the punching bag of the BCS. First down, me. Your turn.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireQuarterback Teddy Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a 5-1 record over the second half of the season.
Andrea Adelson: Yes, there is plenty to brag about when your second BCS team is a laughingstock that does not deserve its spot in the big game. I think even you said that yourself, Heather. The Big East has its problems, and it's easy to take tired jabs. But it does appear as if my preseason prediction is on the verge of coming true. You might recall that I said this summer that the Big East would have a winning record over the ACC this year. Let's take a closer look at the X's and O's to really get this debate started. I would love to hear how NC State is going to beat Louisville, the hottest team in the Big East right now after ending the season 5-1. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was just named by "College Football Live" as rookie of the year, and the Cardinals' defense has been playing lights-out during this winning streak. The Cardinals have their run game going, they've shored up their offensive line and their defense is one of the most aggressive in the Big East -- ranking No. 2 in scoring defense and total defense. Adrian Bushell has developed into a shutdown corner, Dominique Brown has made a huge difference in his move from quarterback to running back, and Bridgewater rarely makes mistakes. Cincinnati hammered NC State, a team I think you called the most inconsistent in the ACC. So how exactly are the Wolfpack going to win this game? And I love how Clemson lost three of four going into the ACC title game, but a win over big-game choker Virginia Tech makes the Tigers a favorite all of a sudden. But we can get to that game in a second.

HD: Wait, wait, wait. Are we talking about the same Louisville team? The one that ranks No. 100 in scoring offense? No. 104 in total offense? No. 111 in sacks allowed? And No. 94 in rushing offense? Yep, that’s the one. How is NC State going to beat that team? Probably by pressuring Bridgewater into an interception right into the hands of cornerback David Amerson, who leads the nation with 11 picks. By winning the turnover battle, thanks in part to quarterback Mike Glennon, who has eight touchdown passes to one interception in the past two wins. By making great use of their tight end, George Bryan. And by winning the field position battle, thanks to the No. 12 punt returner in the country, T.J. Graham. Yeah, Louisville won five of its last six games, OK, but three of those wins came against teams with losing records in conference play. NC State, meanwhile, beat Clemson, the No. 7 team in the country. Speaking of the Tigers, I know you’re going to bring up West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith as your main argument, but I’ll see you Smith and raise you Sammy Watkins. Oh, and P.S. West Virginia is 4-9 against the ACC in postseason play.

AA: You can bring up Geno, who has been quite solid this season. But I will bring up the West Virginia defense, which you could argue is the biggest reason why the Mountaineers are playing in this BCS game. West Virginia looked really shaky early in the year. I will bring up the Syracuse game for you. But then Dana Holgorsen urged his players to quit acting like they could just step onto the field and win without even trying. There was one more hiccup against Louisville, but the defense has been outstanding in wins over Cincinnati, Pitt and USF. Two of those teams are going to bowl games. West Virginia had defensive scores against the Bearcats and Bulls. It was Najee Goode's huge strip of B.J. Daniels late in the season finale against USF that allowed the Mountaineers to come back and win. How about 10 sacks against Pitt? Clemson is going to have to account for Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin up front -- both players have come on strong at the end of the season. And the biggest reason West Virginia has improved on pass defense has been cornerback Brodrick Jenkins, who's a major upgrade over Pat Miller. He and first-team Big East cornerback Keith Tandy have been a nice duo. Plus, West Virginia just finds a way to win close games -- 4-1 in games decided by six points or less.

[+] EnlargeClemson's Sammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/US PRESSWIREAP All-American Sammy Watkins led all freshmen this season with 77 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.
HD: Two words for the West Virginia defense against Chad Morris’ offense: good luck. If it were JUST Sammy Watkins, that would be one thing, but as Virginia Tech figured out in loss No. 1 to Clemson, the Tigers’ offense runs deeper than the country’s best freshman. Tight end Dwayne Allen has been an X factor all season, and the Tigers have plenty of other options surrounding quarterback Tajh Boyd. Clemson has already set school season records for passing yards, total offense and points scored. Boyd has been inconsistent this season, but he’s had far more good moments than disappointing ones. The biggest factor for Clemson has been the turnover margin. The Tigers are 8-0 when they win the turnover battle and 2-3 when they don’t. These two teams are similar in that area. Clemson has lost 20 turnovers this year, WVU 21. I’m guessing that slim margin could be the difference in the game. Quite frankly, Clemson is the more talented team and should win. The ACC will prove this season that it’s the better conference. If it weren’t, why would Pitt and Syracuse be so quick to jump ship? You can’t possibly think that adding Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, UCF and SMU will beef up the Big East. To me, it just got watered down. Even you called the realignment scenario “preposterous.” Great word, by the way.

AA: Are you talking about the same juggernaut Clemson offense that averaged 14 points in its losses to NC State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina? The same Boyd who threw two touchdown passes and five interceptions in those games? Yeah, I think West Virginia can handle that. Don't forget, the Mountaineers see a pretty prolific offense in practice, and Dana Holgorsen has been doing this a little longer than Chad Morris. As for realignment, what the Big East had to do to get itself back in order is preposterous, no question. Having to reach all the way to California to find a new member is ridiculous. But the Big East would not be in this predicament if the ACC kept its hands to itself. If the ACC was such a great, solid conference filled with the finest football programs, why exactly does it keep raiding the Big East? The ACC can now count five former Big East members. Hey, I have an idea. Maybe we should just start calling the ACC the Big East because it will have more of the Big East's original members than the newly reformed Big East-West-Country-USA. The ACC really has the worst of both worlds, taking jabs not only for its own league members but for the Big East, too!

HD: Hey, if I recall correctly, the ACC “received applications” from Pitt and Syracuse, not the other way around. There was probably a line at ACC commissioner John Swofford’s door, with Rutgers, UConn and West Virginia all elbowing each other to try to get in, too. The ACC will be bigger and better, thanks to expansion. The Big Conference will be just that -- bigger. Look, I’d love to sit here and watch you swing at air some more, but the ACC has eight teams in bowl games, unlike the Big East. I’ve got some work to do. So why don’t you just settle in, get yourself some Beef O’Brady’s, and watch the ACC go 2-0 against your Big conference. I know, I know, you’ve got something to say. Go ahead and have the last word. You’ll need it.

AA: Well, considering you cover a conference with 12 teams and I cover one with eight, the Big East has just about the same percentage of teams in bowls. And I don't really need to remind you that the Big East has a better winning percentage in bowl games, or that the ACC has not posted a winning record in bowl games since 2006. Or that the ACC hasn't posted a winning record against the Big East in bowl games since 2007. Nah, you don't need to be reminded at all.

What to watch in the ACC bowls

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
10:15
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The ACC has eight teams in bowl games this season, including two BCS bowls. There's no shortage of storylines. Here are just a few things worth keeping an eye on:

1. The respect-o-meter. For the first time, the ACC has two teams in BCS bowls, as Clemson will face West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl and Virginia Tech will face Michigan in the AllState Sugar Bowl. But what will those teams do with those opportunities? The ACC is 2-11 in its BCS bowls. The ideal situation obviously would be for both to win, but the ACC can't afford to have either suffer an embarrassing loss. The entire conference can come away with a winning bowl record this season, but if the league doesn't represent on the two biggest stages, it likely won't make much improvement in national perception.

2. Streaks. Can Georgia Tech end its streak of six straight losses in bowl games? Can the ACC end its streak of four straight seasons with losing bowl records? Can Florida State's defense continue its dominant streak? FSU has held seven straight opponents to 19 or fewer points; that’s the longest streak of its kind by an ACC team since Miami’s nine-game run in 2005. Notre Dame is averaging 30.5 points per game.

3. Undecided underclassmen. Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen could be a first-round NFL draft pick and the top tight end chosen overall. Virginia Tech running back David Wilson also has yet to decide whether he'll leave school early for the NFL and has submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board. Wilson's teammate, cornerback Jayron Hosley, already has announced his intent to leave early. All three of these players have been exciting to watch and set records throughout their careers. If it's their final performance, you don't want to miss it.

ESPN.com's ACC all-conference team

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
10:30
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Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

ESPN.com is announcing its all-conference teams, and there was only one change here from the all-conference ACC team that the members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association voted on in late November. Offensively, the biggest toss-up was Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens versus UNC’s Dwight Jones, but Givens did more with fewer catches. Defensively, it was difficult. I can understand why Virginia Tech and Florida State coaches and players felt slighted, but in the end, there were better individual performances elsewhere. Here’s a look at ESPN.com’s All-ACC team:


Discover Orange Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
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West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3) vs. Clemson Tigers (10-3)

Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

West Virginia take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Go ahead and say it: West Virginia has a flair for the dramatic this season. The Mountaineers never made things easy on themselves, down to the final game of the season. They dropped a game at Syracuse (has anybody figured that out yet?), and lost at home to Louisville for the first time since 1990, forcing them to scramble to win a share of the Big East title for the sixth time in the past nine seasons. Under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers were the preseason choice to win the Big East because of high expectations for a high-powered offense. Indeed, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin shattered passing and receiving records, but nobody would say things ran smoothly for this team all season. The defense, which lost seven starters off one of the best groups in the nation last season, struggled for a good portion of the season at stopping the run and getting a sustained pass rush.

Even Holgorsen will tell you the offense was not running as consistently as he would like because of struggles on the offensive line and in the ground game. Still, this team found a way to win down the stretch -- and that is the mark of a good team. Consider that it had to come from behind in eight of its nine wins this season. That includes the final three against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. A loss in any of those games would have eliminated the Mountaineers from Big East contention. And in those three games, it was the defense that came up with huge plays -- from a fumble recovery in the end zone against the Bearcats; to 10 sacks against Pitt; to an interception return for a touchdown against USF and a fumble recovery late that gave the Mountaineers a chance to drive for the winning field goal. That victory got West Virginia to nine wins -- making it one of three programs in the nation to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons.


Clemson take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Clemson defied all logic and most expectations when it flat-out dominated Virginia Tech in Saturday’s ACC championship game. After finishing the regular season with losses in three of their past four games, including an inexplicable implosion against NC State and the program’s third straight loss to rival South Carolina, the Tigers played their best and most complete game of the season against then-No. 5 Virginia Tech to win their first ACC title since 1991. It will be Clemson’s first appearance in the Orange Bowl since its national championship season in 1981. After starting the season 8-0, the Tigers struggled down the stretch with pass protection and turnovers, but it all seemed to come together against the Hokies. It’s the first time Clemson has had a 10-win season since 1990.

Clemson enters the Orange Bowl with the nation’s No. 21 passing offense under first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, but West Virginia will also have to be wary of standout true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Dwayne Allen. All three of them have had record-setting seasons, but Clemson’s defense has been inconsistent this year. The Tigers are allowing 26.15 points per game, and will face an offense that is averaging 34.92.

Clemson will be facing the Mountaineers for only the second time in its history. The Tigers won 27-7 in the 1989 Gator Bowl. Clemson has a 16-17 record in 33 bowl appearances. Overall, it is Clemson’s fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl (1951, 1957, 1982).

Clemson shines when it matters most

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As the offensive team bus turned into the stadium near the West End Zone last Saturday night following Clemson’s third consecutive loss to rival South Carolina, the bus driver turned the lights on, and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris took the opportunity to stand up in front of his players and tell them he wasn’t giving up on them.

“I promised them if they come to work on Monday, we’ll get it right,” he said, “and I told them we’ve lost our last football game. I’m sick of it.”

Apparently, so were they.

While Clemson’s convincing 38-10 upset of fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game shocked many on Saturday night, those within the program say there was no shortage of motivation in the week leading up to the most important game of the season. After back-to-back losses to finish the regular season, there was what tight end Dwayne Allen called a “come to Jesus meeting” on Monday, in which coach Dabo Swinney “laid it on us, and it was much-needed.” There was Swinney’s highly publicized Thursday night rant about rival South Carolina that got his team all jacked up. And then there was Friday’s meeting, in which every player was required to stand up and pledge that he would give 100 percent against Virginia Tech.

Whatever it took, and no matter how they did it, the Tigers have found a way this season to win the games that matter most. It just so happened that two of those games were against Virginia Tech, and for the second time this season, the Tigers played their best game of the year against the Hokies. Say what you will about Clemson’s infamous implosions -- none bigger this season than an inexplicable loss to an unheralded NC State team, and an anemic offensive showing in last week’s 34-13 loss to South Carolina. In the end, though, it was Virginia Tech that “pulled the Clemson.”

Dwayne Allen
Bob Donnan/US PresswireA first-quarter scoring strike to Dwayne Allen was the first of three touchdown passes for Clemson's Tajh Boyd.
“We’ve been pretty ugly here in the last few weeks, and tonight we got back to our formula,” Swinney said. “We created turnovers, we took care of the ball. My quarterback showed back up. I told him, I said, ‘We’ve been like a team with the flu or something.' We got better. We needed some early momentum, we needed a spark.”

They didn’t just get a spark; Clemson got a third quarter filled with offensive fireworks. Clemson outgained Virginia Tech 181 to minus-2 total yards on the first three drives. The game was tied at 10 at halftime, but Clemson scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter. The Tigers outgained Virginia Tech in total yards 210 to 51 in the third quarter and scored three touchdowns on five plays in a span of 4:24.

“It was just one of those things that just didn’t happen right,” coach Frank Beamer said. “If you’ve been in athletics and you’ve been in games, sometimes it gets rolling like that, and it got rolling, and we didn’t do a good job of stopping it.”

Clemson’s defense, on the other hand, smothered Virginia Tech. Again. And running back David Wilson didn’t seem too thrilled about it. The ACC Player of the Year had only 11 carries for 32 yards. He openly questioned the staff’s play calling.

“I mean, I never got to get in a rhythm. … A lot of times we were calling a run straight into their blitzes," Wilson said.

“Part of the reason we stopped running the ball, I guess the coaches thought that it wasn’t being successful. But at the same time, you have to get your guys going. The offensive line has to get them moving, and you have to get your running backs into the flow of the game. … When we run our plays into their blitzes, it’s not gonna work.”

Nothing seemed to work for the Hokies. It was the worst margin of defeat for Virginia Tech since it joined the ACC. The Hokies were beaten soundly up front by Clemson’s defensive line, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the game’s unanimous MVP, picked apart a secondary that was depleted by a stinger to cornerback Jayron Hosley.

It wasn’t injuries, though, or officiating that determined the outcome of this game. It was Clemson’s 457 total yards of offense. It was Virginia Tech’s three turnovers and nine penalties. And it was Clemson’s transformation this week from choking to champion.

“You know, we don’t listen to the outside world,” Clemson defensive end Andre Branch said. “Basically like Coach Swinney always said, we play for each other. So yeah, we lost some, but we can either pout about it and keep losing or we can man up and just do what we’re capable of doing.”

It’s been 30 years, though, since they’ve had a chance to do it in the Orange Bowl. Clemson won its first ACC title since 1991, and will play in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1981.

“Coach said it all along,” Allen said. “The only team that can beat Clemson is Clemson. If you watch the film, it’s not South Carolina physically beating us, it’s not NC State physically beating us, it’s us not doing our jobs. Guys are going to kick someone’s butt every now and then, but when you don’t have your eyes in the right spot, when you’re not in your gap, you can’t win.”

Clemson didn’t beat South Carolina or NC State this year, but more importantly, with a championship on the line, the Tigers finally didn’t beat themselves.
The Clemson team that will face Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game is not the same Clemson team that beat the Hokies 23-3 earlier this year.

That Clemson team was ranked No. 13 in the country and undefeated.

This Clemson team is ranked No. 20 and has lost three of its past four.

“I feel like ever since obviously Virginia Tech's only loss, ever since that game they've been -- the sky's the limit for them they've been doing nothing but great things,” said Clemson offensive lineman Landon Walker. “Every game they've played their offense has just gotten better every game.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
AP Photo/Steve HelberClemson needs Tajh Boyd to return to his early-season form if it hopes to knock off Virginia Tech.
“And it seems like we were going that way until about three weeks ago. Georgia Tech kind of was a downfall for us. We didn't play as good as we wanted to at Wake and obviously NC State and South Carolina. We haven't been ourselves the last three, four weeks.”

There is only one game left for Clemson to determine which team it wants to be, and it’s no mystery where the Tigers have come unraveled in the past month. It started with turnovers, as Clemson had 11 during a three-game span against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and NC State. Turnovers, though, didn’t entirely explain the program’s third straight loss to rival South Carolina. Pass protection was a bigger factor, as quarterback Tajh Boyd was sacked five times. Three of those were the fault of the offensive line, which has allowed 11 sacks in two games and struggled without injured starter and senior left tackle Phillip Price, whose status is still questionable for Saturday.

“We're missing some plays, we're not protecting quite as well, and there's a combination of things, got a few guys that aren't playing quite as well as maybe they played earlier in the season,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “But big-picture wise, again, we certainly didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we did finish with the second-best record in this league, and we're 9-3, and we've earned the right to play for the league title, and that's what we're focusing on, these four quarters.”

Clemson’s most complete performance of the season remains its 23-3 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 1. The defense hasn’t come anywhere near that kind of domination since, allowing an average of 35.5 points per game over the past six games. The only time one of Clemson’s opponents hasn’t scored more than 30 points during that span was in the win over Wake Forest, which lost 31-28 on a last-second field goal. The defense has also allowed an average of 420.3 total yards and 246 rushing yards in the three losses.

The focus, though, has been on Boyd, who earlier in the season had played his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Through the first eight games, Boyd had 24 touchdowns and three interceptions and the Tigers were undefeated. Since the win over North Carolina on Oct. 22 -- the last of the eight-game winning streak --Boyd has four touchdown passes to seven interceptions.

“I would say he's not playing with the confidence that he was at that time,” Swinney said. “I think just the pressure and the sacks, quarterback pressure and the sacks, have been a problem, and then the turnovers. You know, all of those things affect especially a young player. He's a first-year starter and everything was going perfect for him, and then all of a sudden he's had some mistakes, and he's got to fight his way through it. That's his part of the growing pains of having a young quarterback. It's disappointing, but we've got to do a good job this week of making sure we give him a chance and make sure our protection is shored up.”

That’s not going to be easy against a Virginia Tech defense that is No. 8 in the country with 3.08 sacks per game.

Clemson has a lot of work to do if it’s going to beat Virginia Tech twice this year, but if it does, the mistakes of the past four weeks will be overshadowed by the program’s first ACC title since 1991.

“One of our goals was to win the state championship and beating South Carolina,” tight end Dwayne Allen said. “But a bigger one, one that comes after that, is to win the ACC championship. And winning the championships, which is something that hasn't been done here in over 20 years, will wipe away the aches that we've been having with the taste of defeat the past couple of weeks.”

There’s only one championship left to win.

Final: South Carolina 34, Clemson 13

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
11:17
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Strike three, Clemson.

For the third straight season, Clemson lost to rival South Carolina. The Tigers only turned it over one time, but it didn't matter. South Carolina's defense was stifling in the 34-13 win. Clemson was outgained 421 yards to 153, converted 6 of 17 third downs, and ran for just 70 rushing yards. Heading into this game, offensive coordinator Chad Morris had said that Clemson had lost some confidence over the past three games and that the Tigers needed somebody -- anybody -- to step up and give them a spark. Sammy Watkins couldn't do it. Tajh Boyd didn't get it done. Neither did Andre Ellington nor Dwayne Allen.

What began as a spectacular season for Clemson has since fizzled with back-to-back losses and three losses in the past four games. It's the opposite direction Virginia Tech has headed, as the two teams prepare to meet in the ACC championship game. With the Hokies coming off a 38-0 shutout of rival Virginia, and Clemson's offense playing flat in the past three games, the Hokies clearly have the momentum heading into Charlotte.
Somewhere in ACC country, ACC commissioner John Swofford had to cringe.

The ACC’s best team -- its highest ranked team and its Atlantic Division winner -- was having a major meltdown.

This is the best the ACC has to offer?

Four turnovers? Two-of-14 on third-down conversions? Six sacks?

No. 7-ranked Clemson didn’t just lose to NC State on Saturday, it got whipped 37-13 -- by a team that had only two ACC wins and still isn’t bowl eligible with one game remaining in the regular season. Clemson had to know it was in trouble when NC State scored 27 points and held the Tigers to just 19 yards -- in the second quarter. It was NC State’s first win over a top-10 team since 2005, and the first at home since 1998. It was also the largest margin of victory over Clemson in Carter-Finley Stadium since 1986.

[+] EnlargeClemson's Dabo Swinney
Rob Kinnan/US PRESSWIRE"We looked like an immature team out there tonight," Clemson's Dabo Swinney said. "That's really it in a nutshell."
“[We are] obviously disappointed on the way we played, really embarrassed,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Really, poor job of coaching, poor job playing, everything involved and there’s no excuse. They wanted more than we did and it’s that simple.

“We looked like an immature team out there tonight,” he said. “That’s really it in a nutshell. It’s not anything more complicated than that.”

Unfortunately for Clemson and its fans, he’s right, and it’s not the first time.

Clemson fans should be used to this. Tight end Dwayne Allen even warned of it earlier this week, pointing out how, in 2009, the Tigers had also clinched the Atlantic Division title but then flopped in a rivalry game they were favored to win against South Carolina. The Tigers are notorious for losing games to unheralded opponents (See: Maryland, 2009). This year, though, Clemson almost shook that reputation -- almost -- by exceeding expectations and clinching the division title a week ago.

The No. 7 team in the country should not lose to an inconsistent, mediocre NC State team. On Saturday, though, NC State was anything but mediocre. It was fantastic.

Part of Clemson’s troubles on offense could be explained by the absence of the ACC’s top receiver, Sammy Watkins, who was sidelined by a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. There is no explanation, though, for the flat performance by Clemson and sudden transformation in NC State’s offense. Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns. No interceptions. The Pack finished with 398 total yards and had a 13-minute advantage in the time of possession.

For Clemson, it was a nightmare. For NC State, it was a day of milestones.

Sophomore cornerback David Amerson earned his 11th interception of the season in the third quarter and tied the ACC single-season mark set by Dre Bly of UNC in 1996. Senior returner T.J. Graham set an ACC record for career kickoff return yardage, breaking the mark of 2,983 set by Maryland’s Torrey Smith last year. Graham now has 2,989 yards. And for NC State coach Tom O’Brien, it was his first win over a top-10 team (and first game against one) since he was hired in 2007.

NC State beat Clemson in every phase of the game. It was the better team. And yet NC State still needs to win its regular-season finale against Maryland to become bowl eligible. It's biggest obstacle, though, is out of the way.

Then again, so are the ACC’s hopes of having two teams play in BCS bowls.

It was a monumental upset for NC State, but as far as the ACC and BCS standings are concerned, it was an equally big loss.

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