NCF Nation: George Bryan

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.
Duke tight end Cooper Helfet has played Division I lacrosse.

He has played two seasons as a receiver at a junior college in California.

Now, finally, entering his second season as a tight end in the ACC, Helfet is the most comfortable and most prepared he’s been as an athlete and he could be one of the best tight ends in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeCooper Helfet
AP Photo/Rich AddicksCooper Helfet expects to be a more well-rounded tight end this season.
NC State’s George Bryan has gotten all of the attention for the position as a first-team all-conference selection, but Helfet has become a more complete player this offseason and could push Bryan for the spotlight. Last year, Helfet played in 11 games and started one and finished fourth on the team with 34 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. This year, he’s a projected starter and his improved blocking skills combined with his ability to stretch the field vertically will make him a key player in Duke’s pass-happy offense.

Helfet said he’s grown “a ton” since arriving at Duke.

“I was a receiver at the JC,” he said. “I ran a lot of similar tight end routes, where it’s a lot of over-the-middle things, a lot of big body catches, but I never put my hand in the dirt. Coach Ron Middleton is probably the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s gotten me exactly where I need to be. In a very short period of time, he’s gotten me to be a tight end, which you’ll see a lot more of this year, more of real tight end, hopefully.”

By that he means he’ll be blocking a lot more. Last year Helfet was used on mainly pass plays, but this year he’ll incorporate more three-point stance blocks and motion blocks.

“You’ll see me get my face into some guys this year,” he said. “I struggled with it last year, just based on a technique standpoint, so I’ve gotten that this year. I’ve really focused on it.”

He’s come a long way from being an unheralded but talented three-sport high school athlete.

Helfet suffered a back injury during his junior year at Redwood High School in California, which he said derailed his recruitment and changed the course of his path. He received a lacrosse scholarship offer from Johns Hopkins and decided to give it a try.

“I just really wanted to play a really competitive DI sport at the highest level, so I got there and tried it out, but lacrosse was never my true passion,” he said. “It wasn’t for me. I couldn’t give it everything I wanted to give. I wanted to go back to playing football.”

The junior college route seemed to be his best option. During two seasons at Santa Rosa Junior College, Helfet had 68 receptions for 1,039 yards. It was a successful detour, but Helfet said he’s finally at the place he wants to be as a collegiate athlete.

“I just wanted to be in a place where I could compete and play Division I football,” he said. “Obviously the ACC is a big-time conference, and they’re putting me in a position where I can be an effective player. That’s really all I wanted.”

It’s up to him this fall to show just how effective he can be.
ESPN.com is releasing its preseason all-conference teams today. You’ll notice this one has a few differences in it from what was voted on at ACC’s media days. Here are the ACC players who get my vote:

OFFENSE

WR Conner Vernon, Duke

WR Dwight Jones, North Carolina

TE George Bryan, NC State

T Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech

T Andrew Datko, Florida State

G Brandon Washington, Miami

G Omoregi Uzzie, Georgia Tech

C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

QB Danny O’Brien, Maryland

RB Montel Harris, Boston College

RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

DEFENSE

DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DT Tydreke Powell, North Carolina

DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Sean Spence, Miami

LB Kenny Tate, Maryland

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

S Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

S Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Will Snyderwine, Duke

P Shawn Powell, Florida State

SP Greg Reid, Florida State

ACC media days notebook

July, 24, 2011
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Boston CollegeBoston College: Linebacker Luke Kuechly led the nation last year with 110 tackles -- so many that his dad often gave him grief last year about how many were legitimate. “He’s always like, ‘You just walk by the ball and they give you tackles,’” Kuechly said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Dad, man, I’m working for those.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not, they’re just tallying them up for you.’”

ClemsonClemson: The pace of Clemson’s offense has sped up under first-year coordinator Chad Morris, and it starts at the heart of the line. Instead of looking to the sideline and getting the play, Clemson center Dalton Freeman said he’s running straight to the ball. “When you’re looking at the sideline for a couple of years, waiting to hear the signal, to going straight to the ball and getting into your stance, it’s a big transition but it’s been a smooth one.”

DukeDuke: Quarterback Sean Renfree said his improved decision-making was the biggest difference down the stretch last season. “Towards the end of the season I was thinking you don’t have to score every series,” he said. “Do the little things to give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter.” Renfree, who’s visibly bigger, faster and stronger, said he’s much more confident entering his second season as starter.

Florida StateFlorida State: The Seminoles are already preparing for their Sept. 17 home game against Oklahoma. “I watch film on them every day,” said defensive end Brandon Jenkins. “That’s a key factor.” Jenkins said last year’s 47-17 loss stuck with them for a long time, but they’re “going to try to change that this year.” He said the Noles have grown most in leadership and maturity since that loss.

Georgia TechGeorgia Tech: While Georgia Tech might not find its next 1,000-yard rusher this fall, A-back Roddy Jones said the Jackets will get their yards by committee this year. “I think there will definitely be at least two,” he said of the B-backs. “We have four who are capable of doing the job. I don’t think any of them will be as explosive as [Jon] Dwyer was, but every single one is capable of being as effective as Anthony [Allen] was.”

MarylandMaryland: Linebacker Kenny Tate said his move from safety to linebacker isn’t as significant as some might think. “It’s really not a huge change,” he said. “… I still have the freedom to move around, I’m just closer to the line.” Tate said he has heard that the move could be a boost in his NFL stock because he can showcase his ability to blitz and also play safety.

MiamiMiami: The Hurricanes will be hunkered down in a hotel to stay focused during the first few weeks of summer camp, according to center Tyler Horn -- who said the team could use it. “Obviously what we did last year was not good enough,” Horn said. “The focus has been an emphasis and being mentally tough … Nothing but good can come out of it.”

UNCNorth Carolina: Quarterback Bryn Renner lost a video game to offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper, and Cooper immediately got the silent treatment. Cooper said Renner is “very competitive. He hates to lose.” One of the adjustments Renner will have to make, Cooper said, is accepting the ups and downs of his position. “You’re not always going to be the glory guy, you’re going to have to take some of the falls with it as well.”

NC StateNC State: Tight end George Bryan said he kept his personal feelings out of former quarterback Russell Wilson’s decision to transfer. He didn’t know until he found about it on TV. “I trust whatever decision was made,” he said. Bryan said he hopes Wilson does well at Wisconsin. “If it’s on TV, I’ll definitely watch it and be cheering for him.”

VirginiaVirginia: Cornerback Chase Minnifield said he “doesn’t have many expectations” for himself: Just an All-American, All-ACC, and the best corner in the country. “I don’t really care what my interceptions are,” he said. “I think a good corner is a guy who doesn’t give up too many passes and doesn’t give up any touchdowns. If I can get that done, I’ll be all right.”

Virginia TechVirginia Tech: Safety Eddie Whitley said he has seen quarterback Logan Thomas making “big strides, even from spring to now.” Whitley said Thomas is ahead of the curve, but expects opponents to disrespect Thomas’ IQ and arm strength. During voluntary workouts this summer, Thomas would run a play, and ask Whitley what coverage the defense was in and why, and how he can throw the ball better against it.

Wake ForestWake Forest: One priority for the defense is creating turnovers, as the Demon Deacons ranked tied for No. 94 in the country last season with 17. Linebacker Kyle Wilber said the players were young, “cocky and arrogant” and thought they were going to easily strip the ball last year. “If we don’t help out our offense and put them in the best position they can be in, how do we expect to win?”

Revised top 25 countdown: No. 22

February, 17, 2011
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No. 22. Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech

[+] EnlargeAnthony Allen
Paul Abell/US PresswireGeorgia Tech's Anthony Allen rushed for 1,316 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
2010 numbers: He finished second in the ACC and ranked 18th nationally in rushing with 101.2 yards per game. He had 1,316 yards, seven touchdowns and 5.5 yards per carry.

Previous ranking: No. 23

Making the case for Allen: He was the workhorse for the nation's No. 1 rushing offense. He had five 100-yard rushing games in 2010 and rushed for more than 160 yards in each of the final two games of the regular season. He successfully made the transition from A-back to B-back, and was a tough runner who was difficult for defenders to bring down.
No. 23. Brandon Washington, OG, Miami

[+] EnlargeBrandon Washington
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesMiami's Brandon Washington graded out above 90 percent in all but one of Miami's games.
2010 numbers: He was second on the team with 56 pancake blocks and 11 lumberjack blocks. He graded out above 90 percent in all but one of Miami’s games, including 95 percent against ACC champ Virginia Tech.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Washington: Washington had a break-out year as Miami's primary right guard, winning ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice in 2010. As a sophomore, Washington evolved into a leader on the line, and was one of three linemen who started all 13 games.

Recruiting rewind

January, 28, 2011
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There’s only one way to truly grade recruits -- look at their performances on the field after they sign. Some, like Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston, exceed their ranking expectations. Others, like Duke kicker Will Snyderwine, make names for themselves as walk-ons. And some, like Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, lend merit to the ranking system.

Using ESPN.com’s recruiting database, I took a look back at my 2010 all-conference team to see how each player fared in his respective recruiting class. Some players have flourished at other positions. Only five of the players were ranked among the ESPNU 150, and five were either unranked or joined the team as a walk-on.

Here’s a look back at the recruiting rankings for the ACC’s top players in 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech:No. 16 player in ESPNU 150, No. 3 overall quarterback in the 2007 class

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College: No. 143 running back in the 2008 class

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech: No. 73 running back in Louisville’s class of 2007

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: No. 61 wide receiver in 2007 class

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland: No. 54 wide receiver in 2007 class

TE George Bryan, NC State: No. 16 tight end, class of 2007

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2006

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State: No. 16 offensive guard in the 2007 class

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: Not ranked in the 2007 class

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson: Not ranked in the class of 2006

OL Brandon Washington, Miami: No. 11 offensive guard in 2008 class

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson:No. 1 overall player in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 1 overall defensive end

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: No. 18 defensive end in the 2009 class

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina: No. 34 defensive end, class of 2008

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson: No. 36 defensive tackle in the 2007 class

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: No. 19 outside linebacker

LB Nate Irving, NC State: Not ranked, class of 2006

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland: No. 18 inside linebacker class of 2006

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: No. 22 cornerback in 2009 class

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia: No. 69 cornerback, class of 2007

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson: No. 105 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2006, No. 12 safety

S Kenny Tate, Maryland: No. 134 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 19 wide receiver

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami: No. 4 kicker in 2006 class

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2007 after an open tryout

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland: No. 21 quarterback in 2007 class

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: No. 40 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2009, No. 5 running back

ESPN.com 2010 All-ACC team

December, 8, 2010
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This is usually one of the most difficult posts of the season, but for some reason, this year there seemed to be more separation between the good players and the great ones in the ACC.

Honestly, the biggest internal debate was over the kicker, a battle between Virginia Tech’s Chris Hazley and Duke’s Will Snyderwine. The coaches voted Snyderwine an All-America selection, and that was hard to ignore, as was the fact that he is the master of the onside kick, and hit four that Duke retained. Duke isn’t the most athletic team, but because of Snyderwine’s ability to put the ball in a 3-yard square, the Blue Devils were right there with everyone else in kickoff coverage (No. 3 behind division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech). The frustrating part of compiling this team is that there is always a deserving player left off -- always. There’s no question, though, that everyone on this year’s ESPN.com All-ACC team deserves it.

Here’s a look at your ESPN.com all-conference team for 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland

TE George Bryan, NC State

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson

OL Brandon Washington, Miami

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Nate Irving, NC State

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

S Kenny Tate, Maryland

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech

Terps help FSU into title game

November, 27, 2010
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There was little fanfare here in Byrd Stadium, as the Terps finally earned a marquee win over a ranked opponent and spoiled NC State’s chances at playing in the Dec. 4 Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game.

[+] EnlargeMaryland's Danny O'Brien
Mitch Stringer/US PRESSWIREDanny O'Brien passed for 417 yards and four touchdowns in Maryland's victory over NC State.
It was Senior Day in College Park. There were record-setting performances and career days by rookie quarterback Danny O'Brien and standout receiver Torrey Smith. There were plenty of reasons to celebrate.

But the real party was going on in Tallahassee.

As Maryland was pushing NC State around en route to a 38-31 win, Florida State was simultaneously dismantling its biggest rival, Florida, in a convincing 31-7 win. It was a monumental victory for the Seminoles, and it was made even bigger with NC State’s loss. Not only did Florida State knock off the Gators for the first time since 2003, it is now guaranteed a trip to the ACC championship game.

NC State tight end George Bryan said he probably won’t be watching.

“Just because I know we had a chance to be there,” he said.

That chance slipped away on Saturday along with NC State’s 14-point lead, as the Wolfpack dropped passes -- including two in the end zone -- turned it over twice, and couldn’t stop Smith, who finished with a school-record four touchdown receptions.

“We’ve come so far,” defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy said. “We were picked to be last in the ACC this year. We were right on the bridge of going to the ACC championship. It hasn’t been done in a long time in Raleigh. We were excited. We wanted it. But we didn’t get it. We’re just going to get back to work, and work for it next year.”

It was only fitting that Florida State won the Atlantic Division with a little help from Maryland, as nobody in the division has separated itself as a great team. Unlike Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech, nobody in the Atlantic Division has been consistently good enough to reach the top of the standings on its own.

With its 6-2 record in conference play in Jimbo Fisher’s first season, there was a lot for the Seminoles to be proud of, but they lost back-to-back heartbreakers to NC State and North Carolina. Maryland was two wins away from playing in the ACC championship game but lost that opportunity with its loss to Florida State last weekend.

In retrospect, the loss that did the Wolfpack in was the 14-13 loss at Clemson -- a divisional game it should have won, but instead blew a 10-0 lead and scored just 13 points in five trips to the red zone.

NC State beat itself again on Saturday.

Bryan and Owen Spencer both dropped potential touchdown passes. A pass intended for T.J. Graham bounced off of his hands and into Maryland safety Eric Franklin’s grasp. The Terps blocked a field goal, and Maryland’s offensive line gave O'Brien all day to find Smith. O'Brien was sacked just twice and threw the ball 47 times.

Still, NC State coach Tom O'Brien said this season wasn't about missed opportunities, rather it was about a successful season the program can build on.

“They felt really crushed,” he said of his players in the locker room. “I don’t think they have comprehended what a great year they really had. To come and get to this point when you look at eight wins or nine wins, when you look at our school, it hasn’t been done too many times. It’s a good start; now we can be better. I told the seniors we are going to find a way to win our ninth game.”

Unfortunately for those seniors, the ninth game won’t be a championship game.

“It’s just a tough way to end a heck of a season and what could have been a chance to keep going,” O’Brien said. “But it didn’t turn out the way we would have liked.”

It did in Tallahassee.

Last chance for NC State

November, 27, 2010
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- NC State is trailing Maryland 24-17 heading into the final quarter of its regular season. Whether it extends its season by one more game depends on whether the Pack can fluster Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien into some mistakes, cover Torrey Smith, and if the offense can finally get something going.

Maryland's defense deserves credit here in the second half, but NC State hasn't done much to help itself in this game with two turnovers and several dropped passes -- including one by tight end George Bryan in the end zone. The Atlantic Division title is on the line here, but NC State has yet to play like it.
Welcome, November, when seasons are made and broken. Here’s a look back at Week 9 and a look ahead at this week:

The good: Refuse-to-lose teams. Boston College, Virginia and Duke all showed some toughness and determination this past weekend, winning games few outside their programs gave them a chance to win. The Eagles won their first game since Sept. 11, Duke won for the first time since beating Elon in the season opener and Virginia knocked off its first ranked opponent since October 2008.

The bad: Miami’s quarterback situation. Starter Jacory Harris suffered a concussion in the loss to Virginia and is questionable for Saturday’s game against Maryland. Backup A.J. Highsmith is still hindered by a hand/wrist injury. Spencer Whipple threw two picks in six pass attempts. Stephen Morris had an encouraging performance, but the staff had to burn his redshirt eight games into the season to discover it.

[+] EnlargeRenfree
AP Photo/Gail BurtonSean Renfree accounted for three touchdowns in the win over Navy.
The ugly: North Carolina’s win over William & Mary. The Tribe controlled most of the game, and the Tar Heels trailed 17-7 after three quarters to former backup quarterback Mike Paulus. UNC lost the turnover battle 2-1, but converted on two key fourth downs.

The play: Trailing 24-21 on fourth-and-inches, NC State quarterback Russell Wilson rolled to his right on a play-action fake and found tight end George Bryan wide open in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown against Florida State.

The playmaker: Duke quarterback Sean Renfree. He threw for 314 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more in the Blue Devils’ 34-31 win over Navy. Even more impressive was the fact he completed 28 of 30 pass attempts, a school single-game record. He tied a school record when he completed his first 16 passes of the game.

Top three games of Week 10:

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: Everyone in the Coastal Division should be watching this one on Thursday night, as Miami, North Carolina and the Jackets all need the Hokies to lose if anyone else is going to have a chance at the division title. It’s going to be tough for Georgia Tech’s defense, as Virginia Tech has the nation’s No. 14 scoring offense at 37 points per game.

NC State at Clemson: This game has lost some of its luster after Clemson lost to BC 16-10, and also lost its leading rusher, Andre Ellington, to a toe injury. The Wolfpack should be confident and favored in this game, but NC State has no margin for error and can’t take the trip to Death Valley lightly. It only needs to look back to the loss to East Carolina for a reminder it’s not invincible.

North Carolina at Florida State: The Tar Heels are physically bruised, while the Seminoles’ egos took a hit in their 28-24 loss to NC State. Both T.J. Yates and Christian Ponder have made costly turnovers recently, and while it’s an inter-divisional game, neither team can afford another ACC loss.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State tight end George Bryan grew up in Castle Hayne, N.C., about 90 minutes away from campus, rooting for the Wolfpack and going to games almost every weekend with his parents.

Never before, though, has he been able to cheer like this.

Then again, never before has Bryan been at the center of it, and bowl-eligible before November.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Bryan
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesGeorge Bryan's touchdown put the Wolfpack up for good in a closely contested matchup of the top teams in the Atlantic Division.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world.”

Bryan, who caught the game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 upset of Florida State, is part of something NC State hasn’t seen in seven years. The win over the Seminoles put NC State in a position to have its best season since the Philip Rivers era. The Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1 ACC), who now trails Florida State (6-2, 4-1) in the Atlantic Division standings by a half-game, are bowl-eligible before November for the first time since 2003, when they finished 8-5. The Pack have never won more than six games under fourth-year head coach Tom O’Brien, and are now in position to have their first winning season since 2005.

O’Brien -- one of the most even-keeled coaches in the business -- was quick to shift the focus to Clemson, the Wolfpack’s next opponent. He’s right. There is no margin for error considering Florida State still leads the Atlantic Division. But the fact that NC State is in a position to win the division is reason to celebrate in Raleigh.

“We fought through this thing,” O’Brien said. “Six wins is significant. We’ve had one winning season here in the last six years. It’s pretty amazing to be in the situation we’re in and to be able to continue this, but we’ve got to go to Death Valley and make it all happen again.”

Thursday night’s thriller is going to be hard to repeat.

NC State scored four straight touchdowns to climb out of a 21-7 deficit, and took the lead on one of the gutsiest calls of the season. On fourth and inches, NC State lined up to kick a field goal but called timeout for a change of plans. O’Brien couldn’t quite see where the ball was, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible kept saying, “We’re six inches, we’re six inches!”

Quarterback Russell Wilson found Bryan wide open in the end zone with 2:40 left to play.

“Sometimes, in spite of myself, we win games,” O’Brien deadpanned.

The defense preserved the win with an all-out blitz. Linebacker Nate Irving, who was taken out of the game for a sprained thumb, was the one who recovered the fumble. It was a play-action, and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder extended the ball too far and lost it.

“It means a lot, just from the way we won the game,” Irving said. “We had to come back and fight, just one play at a time, offense and defense. We all had to stick together and face that team, a great Florida State team and come back and win.”

Bryan remembers his senior year in high school, in 2006, watching John Dunlap catch the game-winner against Florida State. Bryan has seen some big wins at NC State, but he’s never been a part of one like this.

“This is definitely the biggest,” Bryan said. “This is the one we needed the most and we got it.”

Of course, it only makes the next one bigger.

"Hopefully we're going to do this for a long time," O'Brien said. "It's just the start. The next game is the biggest game of my tenure."

video


ACC blogger Heather Dinich talks with NC State tight end George Bryan.

NC State defense sets the tone

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
8:11
PM ET
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The hype has gone to Florida State's defense, and deservedly so, but it was NC State's defense that set the tone here in the first quarter and gave the Pack a short field to work with.

The result was a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Russell Wilson looks remarkably calm and composed. He's making use of his tight end, George Bryan, and running back James Washington. NC State's ability to run the ball early has opened some things up in the passing game. It was a nearly flawless opening drive for NC State.
The ACC released the 2010 preseason all-conference team, as voted on by 52 members of the media at the conference media days in Greensboro, N.C. UNC led all schools with five players selected, followed by Boston College with four players.

Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel got the most votes, being named on 48 of the 52 ballots, while North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn (47 votes) and Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams (45) were the next highest. Virginia and Wake Forest were the only two schools not represented here.

Offense

WR Donovan Varner, Duke

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland

TE George Bryan, NC State

T Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

T Chris Hairston, Clemson

G Rodney Hudson, Florida State

G Thomas Claiborne, Boston College

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech

QB Christian Ponder, Florida State

RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

RB Montel Harris, Boston College

Defense

DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

DE Allen Bailey, Miami

DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina

DT Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland

LB Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

CB Kendric Burney, North Carolina

CB Brandon Harris, Miami

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

S Deunta Williams, North Carolina

Specialists

PK Matt Bosher, Miami

P Matt Bosher, Miami

SP Torrey Smith, Maryland

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