NCF Nation: Jacoby Brissett

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NC State secured its best season since 2011 after a 34-27 win over UCF in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl on Friday night. Here is how the Wolfpack won:

It was over when: Tyler Purvis recovered the onside kick with 1:42 to go after UCF cut the lead to 34-27. NC State had built a 31-13 lead on Matt Dayes' second touchdown of the third quarter. But in typical UCF fashion, the Knights started chipping away at the lead, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the game a little too close for comfort for the Wolfpack. Justin Holman threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reese that cut the gap to a touchdown, but Purvis ended up saving the day.

Game ball goes to: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett. Taking a sack to close the second quarter and miss a chance at a short field goal attempt was one of the few mistakes Brissett made in the game. NC State showed terrific balance in running and throwing. Brissett had 262 yards passing and 31 yards on the ground, and kept countless plays alive with his feet. He looked confident and comfortable as the leader of the NC State offense, a player who has grown into the job after one year behind center. A few of his passes were dropped, and NC State called a few option passes for other players, otherwise Brissett may have had 300 yards passing himself. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he became the first quarterback in NC State history to finish the season with at least 20 touchdown passes and 5 or fewer interceptions.

Stat of the game: 187. The biggest reason why the Wolfpack were so effective was because NC State completely dominated the line of scrimmage, opening big holes in the run game. UCF went into the game ranked No. 5 in the nation in run defense, allowing an average of 97.4 yards per game. When it was tough to run in the first half, Brissett found wide-open receivers in the pass game. That helped open up the run game, especially in the second half. Dayes ended up with 78 yards rushing, Shadrach Thornton had 96 and the Wolfpack finished with 187 total yards rushing.

What it means: NC State made big, big strides in Year 2 under Dave Doeren, finishing 8-5 -- five more victories than a year ago. This program has clearly surpassed rival North Carolina. If the head-to-head win to close the season was not evidence enough, then check the bowl scores after the Tar Heels had a miserable showing in a Quick Lane Bowl loss to Rutgers. The 2015 schedule is a piece of cake in the nonconference, and the Wolfpack get Clemson and Louisville at home. NC State's second Coastal opponent is Virginia Tech. So there may very well be an opportunity for even more with a much more experienced team returning.
NC State has used the hashtag #PacktheBay to get its fans to support the Wolfpack in St. Petersburg, Florida, over the holidays. Given where their opponent is from, they are hoping for all the support they can get.

UCF only had to take a bus a few hours west to make its bowl trip, and its fans are sure to be out in full force -- the way they were in taking over Raymond James Stadium when they played USF in Tampa to close the season.

Here are three key storylines to watch when the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

1. NC State run game vs. UCF run defense. It's a matchup of strength against strength in the trenches. NC State has posted consecutive 300-yard rushing games and is averaging 206 yards per game on the ground behind the collective efforts of quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running backs Shadrach Thornton, Matt Dayes and Tony Creecy. UCF, meanwhile, ranks No. 5 in the nation in rush defense and is only allowing 97.4 yards per game. UCF's past three opponents had a combined 85 yards rushing and averaged 1.2 yards per carry. How NC State runs could very well determine the outcome. Not surprisely, its five losses featured its five lowest rushing totals of the season.

2. Holman to Perriman. Justin Holman and Breshad Perriman have developed quite a connection, especially on the deep ball. Nine of Holman's 13 longest throws this season have gone to Perriman, including the classic 51-yard Hail Mary to beat East Carolina. Of Perriman's 41 receptions this year, 17 have gone for 20 or more yards. Perriman ranks No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards per game (22.1) and has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games. The NC State secondary must find a way to limit big plays, or it could be a long night.

3. Brissett vs. Jacoby Glenn. NC State has only thrown six interceptions this season. That's the fewest picks for a Wolfpack offense since 1967. Five of them belong to Brissett, who played his best game of the season in the regular-season finale against North Carolina. But what awaits him is a veteran secondary starring Co-AAC Defensive Player of the Year Jacoby Glenn, one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Glenn ranks third in the nation with seven interceptions and tied for fourth with 18 passes defended. The UCF starting secondary has played in a combined 171 games and should have a matchup edge on the relatively young NC State receiving group.

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

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

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

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

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

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

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

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

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

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

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

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

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

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

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

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

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

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

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

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

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

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

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

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

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learned in the ACC: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
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The ACC lacks any marquee matchups this week, but that doesn't mean there's no intrigue. Here's what to watch for during Week 11's games.

12:30 p.m.

No. 22 Duke at Syracuse, ESPN3, #DUKEvsCUSE: The Blue Devils are now in clear command of the Coastal Division, but that could change in a hurry if they can't get past Syracuse. The Orange offense has struggled all season, and while freshman QB AJ Long threw for 307 yards against North Carolina State last week -- the first time in nearly two years a Syracuse QB topped 300 yards -- he's doubtful to start this week due to a nerve issue in his throwing arm, pinning the offensive hopes on redshirt freshman Austin Wilson instead. Duke's defense struggled against Pitt last week but has been one of the more fundamentally sound units in the nation previously. Perhaps most important for the Blue Devils is that star wideout Jamison Crowder is coming off a breakout game, and Anthony Boone has the eighth-best Total QBR among Power 5 QBs over the past month.

No. 24 Georgia Tech at NC State, ESPN3, #GTvsNCSU: The Wolfpack finally have an ACC win, which means the monkey is off Dave Doeren's back. But it's not likely he spent much time celebrating this week, as Georgia Tech comes to town sporting one of the nation's most prolific offenses. The Yellow Jackets are 11th nationally in yards per play, second in yards per pass attempt and eighth in yards per rush. The problem for Tech is that the defense has been a sieve for much of the season, and Jacoby Brissett and the NC State offense will try to take advantage. The last time NC State won ACC games on consecutive Saturdays was 2011.

6:30 p.m.

Virginia at No. 2 Florida State, ESPN, #UVAvsFSU: Coming off two straight escape acts against Notre Dame and Louisville, Florida State is hoping for an easy one against a struggling Virginia team that has dropped three straight. The Seminoles certainly deserve to be favorites, but the Cavaliers' run-heavy offense and disruptive pass rush could prove matchup problems for a Florida State team still struggling to get healthy up the middle on both sides of the ball. Last week, Dalvin Cook had a breakthrough performance on the ground for the Seminoles, and he and Karlos Williams will need to keep the rushing game going this week if FSU wants to avoid another close call.

7:15 p.m.

Louisville at Boston College, ESPN2, #LOUvsBC: Boston College is bowl eligible for the second straight season, but the Eagles are quick to say that's not the only objective these days. BC is looking to improve its postseason stock, and with Tyler Murphy leading a big-play offense, Louisville's D figures to have its hands full. Murphy is 35 yards shy of becoming just the second ACC quarterback in the last decade to rush for 1,000 yards, and Louisville's D is still licking its wounds after being gashed by Florida State a week ago. The pecking order in the Atlantic has gone largely according to predictions so far, but BC has a chance to push its way up the standings with a win here -- and as unlikely as it seems, the Eagles still have an outside shot to win the division if they win out and get a little help from FSU.

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 7

October, 11, 2014
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We're officially halfway through the regular season. Here's what we learned in the ACC in Week 7.

Winston isn't rattled: Jameis Winston has now faced Syracuse twice in his career, and both games were preceded by troubling off-the-field news about the FSU quarterback. We'll have to wait to see how this latest investigation by the university into whether Winston broke the school's code of conduct will play out, but his on-field performance was the same as a year ago. Winston completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three TDs in a 38-20 rout of the Orange. In his two games against Syracuse, he's thrown five touchdowns and eight incompletions.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jameis Winston
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has now thrown five touchdowns and just eight incompletions in two games against Syracuse.
There will be a huge game in Tallahassee next week: North Carolina, for all its early-season struggles, was ready for its trip to South Bend, Indiana. The Tar Heels gave Notre Dame all it could handle and actually held a lead heading into the fourth quarter. Much as it did against a top-10 Miami team in Week 6 last year, UNC couldn't pull out the win, though, losing 50-43. That's bad for the Heels, but perhaps good for the ACC's profile, as the Irish now head to Florida State in Week 8 for a showdown between two undefeated top-10 teams.

Defense wins games, too: This isn't the Clemson Tigers we got to know under Chad Morris, but it's still an awfully tough team to beat. Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury in the first quarter Saturday, delivering a huge blow to the Tigers. But while the offense couldn't muster much of anything against Louisville's stout defense -- a unit, by the way, that has allowed touchdowns on just three of 92 FBS opponents' drives this season -- Clemson's own defense did enough to win, 23-17. The Tigers held Louisville to 1-of-17 on third downs and stuffed the Cardinals at the goal line in the final minute of action to preserve the win.

Duke isn't dead in the Coastal: It was easy to forget the defending division champs after a loss to Miami, but the Blue Devils showed they were still a force to be reckoned with by upending Georgia Tech 31-25. It was Duke's first win in Atlanta in 20 years. Duke beat Tech at its own game, protecting the football while forcing three Yellow Jackets turnovers, and running the football to the tune of 242 yards on 47 carries. Duke's win over previously unbeaten Georgia Tech actually vaults Virginia into first place in the Coastal, but as we've seen in so many previous seasons, that division could be a jumble all the way until the end.

Tyler Murphy was Florida's best QB: The QB issues for Will Muschamp's Gators have been well-documented, but the two quarterbacks he parted ways with met head-to-head in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, and Murphy left no question about who would come out on top during Boston College's 30-14 win over NC State. Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed just 14 of 30 throws and tossed his first interception since Week 1 as NC State lost for the 11th straight time in ACC play. Murphy, on the other hand, was stupendous, rushing 15 times for 132 yards and scoring twice. No Power 5 quarterback is within 100 yards of Murphy's rushing total for the season.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
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We're almost at the halfway point of the season. Here is your viewing guide for all of Saturday's ACC action.

Noon

No. 1 Florida State at Syracuse, ESPN, #FSUvsCUSE: This matchup is ... shall we say, not favorable for Syracuse? The Orange fell in Tallahassee, Florida, last year, 59-3, and they enter this game without quarterback Terrel Hunt, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula. They also enter the contest with a new offensive coordinator in Tim Lester, as head coach Scott Shafer stripped George McDonald of his duties this week, creating another series of drama. The Seminoles could be without several key pieces, and they could get caught looking ahead to next week's showdown with Notre Dame, but it probably won't matter.

Cincinnati at Miami, ESPN3, #CINvsMIA: Tommy Tuberville returns to the place where he won three national titles as an assistant, but he needs his defense to get up to speed after consecutive poor showings. He might also need to call upon familiar face Munchie Legaux, too, as Gunner Kiel is nursing a chest injury. The Hurricanes' offense should have a big game here, but the real question is if its defense can forget about last week's performance against Georgia Tech and look more like the unit that held Duke to 10 points two weeks ago.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsPaul Johnson and Duke coach David Cutcliffe have been sniping at each other in the media in the lead-up to Saturday's Coastal Division matchup.
Duke at No. 22 Georgia Tech, #DUKEvsGT: Duke coach David Cutcliffe doesn't understand why a talented receiver would look at Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson thinks Cutcliffe should worry about his own team, which is coming off a bye, has dropped 10 straight to the Yellow Jackets, and has not won in Atlanta in 20 years. Sure, the talk leading up to this one has been fun, but the on-field implications are big: The Blue Devils are the reigning Coastal champions and looking for their first league win of the season; the Yellow Jackets are in the driver's seat in the division after a 5-0 start.

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at Clemson, ESPNU, #LOUvsCLEM: Honesty week has sure been fun in this league, huh? There was the Cutcliffe-Johnson back and forth that we mentioned above, and there was Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino comparing the noise of Death Valley to that of the Carrier Dome, where Louisville won last week by 22. Clemson fans did not take kindly to this, however unintentional the comments might have been. If the Tigers fans deliver on their "Silent Out," well, Petrino would technically be right, no? In any event, the defensive matchup should be fun to watch in this one, as both units have been flat-out salty in recent weeks. Louisville could get a much-needed boost offensively as well if DeVante Parker returns.

Boston College at NC State, ESPN3, #BCvsNCSU: Somewhere, Will Muschamp and Gators fans everywhere weep. As Florida goes through even more quarterback turmoil this week, a pair of former Gainesville signal-callers meet up in Raleigh, as the Eagles' Tyler Murphy takes on the Wolfpack's Jacoby Brissett. Murphy orchestrated a huge upset of USC last month but is coming off a loss to Colorado State and a bye, while Brissett got his name on the national radar with a strong performance against FSU before getting shut out at Clemson last week. We won't exactly call this a "must-win" for either team, but a loss will not bode well -- especially for NC State, which, for all of its early-season excitement, has yet to win an ACC game in the two-year Dave Doeren era.

North Carolina at No. 6 Notre Dame, NBC: Everett Golson might find just the perfect opponent to help rid himself of a recent two-game rut and gain some momentum heading into next week's game at FSU. The fringe Heisman candidate is facing a UNC defense that has given up 51.3 points per game over its past three contests and is desperate for answers. Golson, remember, almost went to UNC, where he would've tried to play football and basketball. The Tar Heels boast plenty of athleticism, especially on offense, and it will be interesting to see if they can crack the code of one of the country's more surprising units of the first half: the Fighting Irish defense, which has overcome massive turnover and a coordinator change to tie for third nationally in scoring average (12 PPG).

What we learned in the ACC: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
12:05
AM ET
Here's what we learned in the ACC in Week 6:

1. FSU should be the unquestioned No. 1. Florida State did what it was supposed to do and beat Wake Forest 43-3 on Saturday. The Seminoles are now 5-0, and there should be no doubt they are No. 1 after No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma lost. Yet there are those who might not see the Seminoles as No. 1, not after Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss turned in wins over ranked SEC opponents. The voters should be reminded Florida State has won 21 games in a row. It beat an improving Oklahoma State team, ranked No. 21 and rising, to open the season; it beat Clemson with a backup quarterback; and it outscored NC State 49-17 after a disastrous first quarter this past week. Not every win has been impressive, but Florida State has found ways to beat one ranked team, beat another with a backup and overcome a 24-7 deficit. Clemson, by the way, will be ranked before too long, so that win will only look better and better. The Tigers are a far different team with Deshaun Watson under center. Of course, the rankings don't really matter right now. If Florida State beats Syracuse and Notre Dame, it will be very happy with where it stands when the first College Football Playoff committee rankings are released Oct. 28.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Tech Zach Laskey
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesZach Laskey accounted for 133 of Georgia Tech's 318 rushing yards against Miami.
2. Virginia and Georgia Tech are the Coastal front-runners. Believe it! The two teams in the Coastal with the most questions headed into the season have gotten off to 2-0 starts in league play and sit atop the division. For now. While there always is a caveat in the Coastal, both teams deserve to be there. Georgia Tech ended long losing streaks to both Virginia Tech and Miami. Its 28-17 win over the Canes on Saturday night was as thorough an offensive domination as you can get. The Jackets rolled up 311 yards rushing and 21 first downs, converted 9-of-14 third-down attempts and held the ball for 40 minutes. They also came up with two turnovers to kill Miami drives. The Canes' defense reverted to form and looked lost for most of the night against a team that has the most predictable offense in the ACC. Virginia, meanwhile, held on to beat Pitt 24-19 behind a career game from Kevin Parks, who had 169 yards and a touchdown. Considering how the Panthers outplayed the Hoos in the second half, this is a big win for Virginia. Maybe a season ago, the result would've been different. No, the officiating was not very good in the game, but Virginia found a way to win. The Nov. 1 matchup between Georgia Tech and Virginia in Atlanta is looking pretty big right about now.

3. The two-QB system isn’t working for UNC. Mitch Trubisky was 1-of-4 for 11 yards and threw a disastrous pick-six during his limited time on the field in a 34-17 loss to Virginia Tech, and once again Tar Heels fans are wondering why Larry Fedora insists on the merry-go-round at QB. Marquise Williams has said the right things, but the off-and-on approach is clearly affecting him, while Trubisky isn’t getting nearly enough reps to make real progress. With UNC’s Coastal hopes on life support, it’s time for Fedora to pick his QB -- either to try to win now or to prep for the future. It is not as if the schedule gives them any breaks, either. North Carolina is at Notre Dame next weekend, with games against Georgia Tech, at Virginia and at Miami to follow.

4. NC State isn’t ready to contend: Clemson could do what Florida State couldn’t: get consistent pressure off the edge on NC State in a 41-0 blowout. The Tigers’ pass rush utterly smothered Jacoby Brissett, whose problems with fumbles under pressure continue to cost the Wolfpack. Meanwhile, NC State’s porous defense looked bad again, and while it’s clear Dave Doeren’s crew is better than it was a year ago, the ACC losing streak is now at 10 games, and there’s no debate who is the second best team in the Atlantic Division. Watson finished with 329 all-purpose yards in another solid performance, which left many to wonder what would have happened had he been the starter when the season began.

5. Louisville can win with defense: The Cardinals haven’t allowed more than 300 yards in a game yet this season and notched another outstanding effort in a 28-6 win over Syracuse on Friday night. Its 12 interceptions through six games were more than six ACC teams had all of the past season. Gerod Holliman has seven picks in six games -- something no one had done since FAU’s Tavious Polo in 2007. The defensive front has racked up 21 sacks already, and no opponent has averaged even 3 yards per rush. Yes, Louisville is having some offensive struggles in the early going, but it might not matter if Todd Grantham’s unit keeps playing this well.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 6

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
8:00
AM ET
Conference play all around! Let's take a quick look at what's on the docket.

Virginia Tech (3-2, 0-1) at North Carolina (2-2, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 3. #VTvsUNC. The biggest storyline discussed in the run-up to this game focused on the propensity for both secondaries to give up big plays. But keep an eye on the Virginia Tech run game. Unlike East Carolina and Clemson, Virginia Tech will work hard to try to establish the run. But how will the overall unit look with Shai McKenzie out for the season? Coach Frank Beamer said the staff has not come up with a set rotation yet, but somebody else will have to step up to complement leading rusher Marshawn Williams.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt.
NC State (4-1, 0-1) at Clemson (2-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 15. #NCSTvsCLEM. Quarterbacks take center stage in this meeting as NC State's Jacoby Brissett and Clemson's Deshaun Watson have emerged as two of the best signal-callers in the league. Brissett has thrown 13 touchdown passes to one interception; Watson has thrown 10 touchdown passes to one interception. Watson leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (11.9) and is second in the nation in pass efficiency; Brissett has thrown 156 passes without an interception. Both teams appear to be in good hands at the position for the foreseeable future.

Wake Forest (2-3, 0-1) at No. 1 Florida State (4-0, 2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. Line: Florida State by 38. #WAKEvsFSU. Will this be the first FBS game all season in which Florida State coasts? The Noles have needed comebacks to win their past two games, but Wake Forest should not present an upset threat. However, Wake Forest has been impressive on defense -- especially Tylor Harris, whose three fumble recoveries last week against Louisville are the most for any player in one game since the NCAA started keeping stats at the turn of the century. Where the Deacs will be totally overwhelmed is on offense. John Wolford already has 10 interceptions, and Wake has given up 25 sacks.

Miami (3-2, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2. Line: Georgia Tech by 2. #MIAvsGT. This is a big-time prove-it game for the Jackets, who had a bye to prepare for the Hurricanes after beating Virginia Tech a few weeks ago. Georgia Tech has not dominated anybody but has found ways to win. However, Duke Johnson may be too much for this Jackets defense to handle. Last year, Johnson had 184 yards against Georgia Tech. The Jackets rank last in the ACC in rush defense. Miami has handled the triple option well in five straight wins, but its defense can't simply rest on its performance against Duke last week. Miami also has to prove it can be consistent on that side of the ball.

Pitt (3-2, 1-0) at Virginia (3-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 6. #PITTvsUVA. Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert will be a game-time decision, though he is listed as questionable on the team's injury report. No matter who plays quarterback, the focus will be on the Virginia run defense against James Conner, who failed to reach 100 yards for the first time all season last week against Akron. The Hoos provide a bigger test, ranking No. 10 nationally against the run. If Virginia wins, the Hoos would be 2-0 in ACC play for the first time since 2009.
Perhaps it's a statement on the lack of depth in the conference, or maybe it's a nod to the sheer talent at Florida State, but after a 15-point loss to the Seminoles, NC State is finally getting some respect.

The Wolfpack jumped out to a 4-0 start this season, but the opposition was lackluster and the bandwagon remained sparse, but after Jacoby Brissett shredded FSU's vaunted defense to the tune of 24 first-quarter points, NC State suddenly seemed like a real player in a league desperate for a few challengers to Florida State's dominance.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson has established himself as the quarterback of the near future for the 2-2 Tigers.
"I believe we can beat anybody, and that game showed it," NC State coach Dave Doeren said. "We have that confidence."

That's a start for the Wolfpack, but it still wasn't a win.

For Clemson, respect in the league hasn't been hard to grasp. The Tigers have been the clear No. 2 in the conference the past few years, but the goal has been to reach just a bit higher. Two weeks ago, against those same Seminoles, they were painfully close to assuming the mantle atop the conference, but like NC State, they fell just a bit short.

But again, a loss to Florida State was just the start of something new for Clemson, too. Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson got his first start last Saturday, and he made it a memorable one -- tossing six touchdown passes against an overwhelmed North Carolina defense.

Like NC State, Clemson didn't knock off the champs, but it did gain some momentum.

"He's a special young talent," Dabo Swinney said of his new QB. "I haven't been around a freshman like him."

Neither team appears likely to win the Atlantic Division now, but thanks to all that post-FSU momentum, the Tigers and Wolfpack are set to face off in what might be the ACC's most intriguing game of Week 6.

The intrigue starts at the quarterback position, as Watson and Brissett have emerged as legitimate challengers to Jameis Winston's ACC supremacy. In fact, Swinney sees an awful lot of the reigning Heisman winner in NC State's QB.

"If you just take the jerseys off, [Brissett] looks a lot like Winston, just the size and kind of some of their movements and how they're both strong enough to break tackles and extend some plays," Swinney said. "I've been very impressed with him."

Watson has done his share of impressing, too. In his first four career games, his stat lines compares favorably with what Winston did to start his Heisman campaign just a season ago. Watson has averaged more yards-per-pass, posted a better TD-to-INT ratio and is just a 1 percentage point behind Winston's completion percentage from his first four games of 2013.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State's Jacoby Brissett is pushing the Wolfpack to contend for the Atlantic Division title.
"He's a very mature individual and he knows his role," Clemson tailback C.J. Davidson said of Watson. "He knows what it takes to be great. I knew when he got his chance that he would step up."

But if the QBs are the hot story, the secondaries should be most concerned.

Clemson's vaunted pass rush has done its job (38 tackles for loss), but against FBS foes, the Tigers rank 95th nationally in passing defense, allowing 276 yards per game.

NC State's numbers aren't quite so troublesome — 238 passing yards-per-game vs. FBS teams — but Winston torched the Wolfpack for 365 yards and four TDs last week, with a host of missed tackles adding to the misery of a 56-41 loss.

"Coverage mistakes, missed tackles, mental errors, people aligned in the wrong place," said freshman linebacker Jerod Fernandez, who had two INTs against the Seminoles. "Florida State is a good team, and when you have those kinds of mistakes against that type of team, they're going to capitalize."

Clemson is another team more than capable of capitalizing on mistakes, but that's the ideal way to rebound from an ugly performance, Fernandez said. And a year after suffering through an 0-8 record in conference play, NC State is eager to get a win in the league on another big stage.

And that's really what's at stake in Death Valley on Saturday. Both Clemson and NC State are now squarely in FSU's rearview mirror, which makes earning some respect in crucial conference games all that much more important.

"I feel like we earned a little respect last week," Fernandez said, "and now we've just got to take it."

ACC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
9:00
AM ET
Here are the players who stood out above the rest during a wild Week 5 in the ACC:

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett: How can you overlook Brissett's efforts in NC State's 56-41 loss to top-ranked Florida State? The Florida transfer completed 32 of 38 passes for 359 yards with three touchdowns, while rushing for 38 yards as well. It was a loss, yes, and it will be tough to get up for every game the way you do when the No. 1 team in the country comes to your backyard, but Brissett gives NC State a completely new look offensively, and the program has to be excited about the rest of the season going forward.

Wake Forest defensive end Tylor Harris: When you set a national record, you likely end up with a helmet sticker. The junior did just that for the Demon Deacons in a tough 20-10 loss at Louisville. Harris set a new FBS record by recovering three fumbles in a game. No FBS players has totaled three fumble recoveries since it became an official stat in 1992. Harris now has four on the year, one shy of the school single-season record of five. He had a strip-sack and fumble recovery in the end zone for a score in the third quarter to give Wake the 10-7 lead at the time. This defense will give the Deacs opportunities to stick around in some games in which they are overmatched this year. Hats off to Harris.

Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman: The Hurricanes looked like a completely different team than the one that was run over by Duke late last season, topping the Blue Devils, 22-10. Perryman was a big part of that, forcing a fumble, picking of one pass and breaking up another. His interception with 1:55 left all but clinched the win for Miami, handing Duke its first loss and shaking up the entire Coastal Division race once more.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson: How about this for a first career start: 27-of-36 passing for 435 yards, six touchdowns, one interception, in addition to 28 yards rushing. The Tigers bounced back appropriately from last week's heartbreaker at Florida State and beat North Carolina, 50-35. With a true freshman quarterback already this good, it's easy to get excited about the future for the Tigers, both short- and long-term.

Florida State running back Karlos Williams: If FSU has plans on repeating as national champions, it is going to need some production out of its backfield. And the Seminoles finally got that Saturday in their 56-41 come-from-behind win at NC State. Williams carried the ball 21 times for 126 yards and scored three touchdowns. He added three catches for 29 yards. As our David Hale noted, before overtime of the Clemson game last week, Williams had tallied just 152 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. This was a huge development during an otherwise concerning afternoon for the Noles.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:18
AM ET
Let's take a look at what we learned in the ACC for Week 5:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State's Jacoby Brissett dazzled again this week, but Florida State rallied to stay undefeated.
1. Survival State. Florida State is not as good as it was a season ago. That much seems pretty clear. But despite some of their flaws, the Seminoles have found ways to win in consecutive weeks, keeping themselves in College Football Playoff contention. A week after surviving Clemson in overtime, No. 1 Florida State had to overcome a 24-7 first quarter deficit at NC State -- a house of horrors that has haunted the program going for a decade. Given the horrible start and the history, Florida State looked ready to go down. But the Seminoles scored on three straight possessions between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to come away with the 56-41 win. Florida State ended up outscoring the Wolfpack 49-17 after that dreadful opening period. Good teams are often tested during the season. But Florida State has now been tested in all three of its FBS games. Wake Forest and Syracuse are ahead before a big showdown against No. 8 Notre Dame on Oct. 18. The Seminoles have plenty of work to do before then.

2. Do not count out Miami. A week ago, Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was the most wanted man in South Florida after the Canes looked completely out of it in a loss to Nebraska. Would you look at that defense a week later? Miami completely shut down Duke and its run game, holding the Blue Devils to 264 total yards and 2-of-16 on third down while forcing three turnovers. But maybe the best news of all in its 22-10 victory -- Miami made some exceptional tackles and that has to be encouraging moving forward. While critics might want to quickly dismiss the win because it came against a Duke team that feasted on weak competition to date, Miami deserves credit for bouncing back from a dreadful tackling day against the Huskers. Duke Johnson finally got to 100 yards rushing and Brad Kaaya keeps getting better. The rest of the Coastal is a mess, so why not Miami?

3. Jacoby Brissett is for real. We thought Brissett might be for real based on his first four games, but after his performance against Florida State, we know it now to be true. Brissett had some pretty terrific Houdini moments and ended up going 32-of-48 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 13 rushes for 38 yards. His presence in the offense makes NC State a radically different team. Just look at the difference in the games between these two teams over the span of a year. Last season, NC State trailed 35-0 after the first quarter. This season, Brissett had NC State on the verge of an upset. The Wolfpack have improved as the season has worn on -- having Brissett behind center is a big reason why.

4. Pitt, BC are not for real. On a day when the ACC kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive, the league took yet another double-whammy hit from its middle-of-the-pack teams. Pitt and Boston College lost to Group of 5 programs and it’s hard to gauge which home defeat was more stunning. Was it the Panthers, who showed no signs of life in a 21-10 loss to Akron? Or was it Boston College, blowing a fourth-quarter lead and losing 24-21 to Colorado State? Just two weeks ago, the Eagles pulled their own stunner, beating down USC in a performance that should have served notice. Instead, BC falls into the same trap Virginia Tech did, albeit a few weeks apart. Neither team could keep up the momentum it created after taking down a ranked team. As for Pitt, the nonconference schedule presented four winnable games. The Panthers only won two. They failed in just about every area against Akron, most notably rushing the ball. James Conner had his 100-yard streak snapped. If Pitt can’t run, it has little hope to win.

5. Mixed bag for young QBs. Clemson's Deshaun Watson got his first career start and wowed just about everybody, setting a school record with six touchdown passes in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. If only he had started against Georgia and Florida State. … Meanwhile, Kaaya keeps showing growth in the Miami offense, going 20-of-34 for 223 yards and two scores. These two look like future quarterback stars in the ACC. As for some of the others? Louisville fans clamored for Reggie Bonnafon the way Clemson fans wanted Watson. Bonnafon got his shot against Wake Forest with an injured Will Gardner on the sideline and showed some flashes, going 16-of-32 for 206 yards. But he also had two critical fumbles, including one in the end zone Wake Forest converted into a touchdown. The offensive line did him no favors, and his receivers also had several drops in the 20-10 win. Wake quarterback John Wolford continues to have a tough time, throwing three interceptions.

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