NCF Nation: Michael Rocco
Let us start back in spring 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco had just taken UVa to an 8-5 season and bowl appearance. Mike London won ACC Coach of the Year honors. The Cavaliers became the first program to ever win road games at Florida State and Miami.
The trajectory pointed up.
Two months later, that piece of paper came into play. The NCAA granted Sims a waiver for immediate eligibility. Now, Rocco not only had to hold off David Watford to keep his starting job, he had to hold off the former ESPN150 prospect, too. Sims was too tantalizing a player to keep on the bench, so London decided both Rocco and Sims would play. The plan worked briefly before completely collapsing. Rocco took a step back, perhaps because he felt he could not truly lead his teammates. Sims, for all his talent and athleticism, was largely ineffective.
Frustrated with his role and the way London managed the quarterbacks, Rocco decided to transfer after the season ended. He clearly had enough, calling it an "unhealthy situation" on his way out the door.
Sims appeared to be the next man up. Except he landed in the doghouse before spring practice ever began and never won the starting job. He flunked out of school, leaving few viable options for the 2013 season.
After another quarterback competition, Watford won the starting job. Virginia won two games, and Watford threw eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing just 57 percent of his passes.
Heading into 2014, Virginia will start yet another quarterback: Greyson Lambert. During ACC Kickoff, London was asked why he believes Lambert will bring consistency to a position that has been a weakness at UVa for years.
"You look around, every team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball, be accurate and make good decisions, it makes the team go,” London said. “Greyson can be that. I think he’s smart enough; he’s got the skill and ability to do that. Now, he’s got to do it on the field. He’s shown it in spring practice."
Now back to that waiver. What if Sims was not granted immediate eligibility and had to sit out a year? Rocco would have been the definitive starter, bringing a known commodity to quarterback. Rocco was not without his flaws, but at least UVa would have had much-needed consistency at the position. Virginia lost three games that season by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those games (say Wake Forest and Maryland, two non-bowl teams) would have meant bowl eligibility. Sims would have had a year to learn the system, to learn from Rocco, figure out how to balance football and academics and be groomed to take over as the starter.
Instead, Virginia has won six games in two years and still has no true identity at quarterback. Perhaps the search for a solid, unquestioned starter ends in 2014.
Watford had been the favorite to win the job after the Cavs lost both starters from a year ago -- Michael Rocco decided to transfer to Richmond and Phillip Sims was dismissed from the program following spring practice. Though Watford has not taken a snap in a game since 2011, he is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Greyson Lambert, the player Watford beat out, is a redshirt freshman.
Watford played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011, but redshirted last year as London decided to go with both Rocco and Sims at quarterback. Virginia has not had much stability at quarterback over the past several seasons, but London wants to change that heading into 2013. He said at ACC media days he wants to pick a starter and go with him as opposed to constantly rotating.
London pointed to a few factors that allowed Watford to emerge as his starter. The biggest factors in the decision were Watford's overall development and game experience. Watford also is mobile, another important factor.
But it seems as if Watford has some intangibles that London also is looking for out of his starting quarterback. London said Watford has the respect of his teammates. "He can be the face of the program," London said.
Watford has an opportunity to become just that in the first two games. After BYU, the Cavs get to take on Oregon in Week 2. There won't be any easing into the starting job.
2. As usual, Duke head coach and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe taught me something, but it wasn’t what I expected to hear. The rise of young quarterbacks in today’s game, Cutcliffe told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, is in part because the up-tempo spread offense is less taxing intellectually than traditional pro sets. The emphasis is on speed of decision, not complexity. It’s hand off or keep, hand off or throw, and do it now.
3. The only thing consistent about Virginia quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims last year was the tension that hovered around the offense all season. It showed. The Cavaliers scored 17 points or fewer in six games, won one of them, and finished 4-8. Rocco (graduation) and Sims (academics) are gone. Head coach Mike London told me on the podcast Monday that whoever wins the job -- sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Grayson Lambert are the favorites -- will be The Guy. Job-sharing is over.
Now Phillip Sims is ineligible.
So, here is where things stand for the Cavs: A program that has struggled to find consistency at quarterback enters 2013 without either player who made a start a year ago.
With Rocco gone, Sims became the favorite to win the starting job. But he opened the spring No. 3 on the depth chart, and let his frustrations be known in cryptic statements to several local reporters. When he was asked if he was starting to feel more like himself on the field, Sims replied, "It really looks like it's headed in the opposite direction, but I'm here to play football, man" -- then refused to elaborate.
Sims did not grab a hold of the starting job in the spring. When the post-spring depth chart was released, Sims, David Watford and Greyson Lambert remained in competition. As much as he wanted to see Sims succeed, London did not hold back in a harshly worded statement Friday, calling Sims out for failing to adhere to basic guidelines.
"The thing we tell the young men who come to the University of Virginia to receive a world-class education and play for our football program is pretty simple,” London said. “Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and they will lead you on a path of success.
“When an individual strays from those directions, it is very disappointing to me. Phillip Sims did not make the commitment he needed to succeed here."
Disappointing is probably putting it mildly. Sims was one of the most high profile recruits in the nation in 2010, ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. He could have gone anywhere. London wanted him to stay close to home.
Sims chose Alabama.
After redshirting, Sims entered into a quarterback competition with AJ McCarron in 2011. Though Sims played as a redshirt freshman, he clearly would not become the starter for the Tide, and opted to transfer to Virginia.
The move was seen as a big victory for the Cavs, as they secured a high-profile talent from the most high-profile school in the nation. He was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. But his arrival did not exactly calm the waters, as the Cavs struggled to a 4-8 mark.
So the Cavs go into the spring now with Watford and Lambert as their top two quarterbacks. Watford has not played since 2011 after redshirting last year; Lambert is a redshirt freshman. So is Matt Johns, sure to get more reps this fall.
Sims, for all his incredible potential, goes down as yet another example of a gifted player who cannot seem to figure out how to best utilize his natural talent.
Two stops at BCS programs for Sims, and nothing to show for it. Based on the statement from London, it is reasonable to conclude Sims could not get out of his own way.
Why? Because first-year offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, and first-year assistant Tom O’Brien, the associate head coach for the offense -- not to mention coach Mike London -- have yet to see any of these quarterbacks throw the ball in the new system. Sims, a former transfer from Alabama, was a fan favorite last year, but there is nothing concrete about the spring depth chart. It’s a blank slate for each of them, as practices begin today in Charlottesville.
“The great thing about the fresh start is for all of those guys concerned because now there are fresh eyes on the whole quarterback situation,” London said. “… With this new scheme and system, and the accountability we’re placing on the players, there are basically three fresh eyes between Larry Lewis, Fairchild and O’Brien. I would say even the fourth one would be Jon Tenuta, since he’ll be going against these guys, to evaluate those quarterbacks on who could best run the system, who can best make the decisions that are necessary.”
Watford played as a true freshman in 2011 but redshirted last year. Sims started four games last year in place of Michael Rocco, who has since transferred. Sims finished with nine touchdowns and four interceptions, having completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,263 yards. Lambert and Matt Johns are both redshirt freshmen.
“Phillip has an advantage of having played this season, David has the advantage of having played and watched what has gone on, and Grayson and Matt Johns are just soaking everything up,” London said. “Now the challenge will be who can best pick up the system and who can do the things that are required for our offense to be successful. I think the evaluation of that is more critical than the who right now. Who can handle what Steven and the offensive coaches are going to be asking of the quarterbacks?”
The bigger question is if London can find one quarterback who can do it instead of two. Rotating signal callers has become an unpopular trend in Charlottesville, but in London’s defense, a true star has yet to emerge. Virginia’s quarterback competition has been an ongoing storyline during London’s tenure as head coach, and the saga will continue this spring -- starting with today’s depth chart.
“I think Phillip is a competitor,” London said. “He wants to compete. I know he has a strong arm, and he likes to throw the ball deep. He likes to throw those deep, intermediate routes. Like every player, particularly a quarterback, it’s a timing game and you have to work on your timing -- when to throw, when to pull it down. Different things like that. I think that if you think about it, having come from Alabama, and coming to us, and now with Steve Fairchild, it will be basically his third system in the last three years that he’s played. Being able to adapt to that is going to be critical, as it will be for David, who sat and watched a system. With Phillip and everyone else, the learning curve is going to be important with these 15 short practices we have in the spring.”
IN GREAT SHAPE
CLEMSON: Boyd returns. The record-setter should be a Heisman candidate, considering he led the ACC in passing efficiency, was second in passing average/game, and threw for 36 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions.
MIAMI: Stephen Morris returns. Morris should be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and he might have the best offensive line in the conference to work with. Last season, Morris started all 12 games and threw for a career-best 3,345 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 58.2 percent of passes. He set the school single-season total offense record with 3,415 yards.
NORTH CAROLINA: Bryn Renner returns. He was No. 3 in the ACC last season in passing average per game (279.7), and he was No. 3 in passing efficiency. He finished with 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
VIRGINIA TECH: Thomas returns. This was a huge boost to the Hokies’ offense. Thomas has started the past 27 games for the Hokies, passing for 6,096 yards and 37 touchdowns, and running for 1,015 yards and 20 scores.
WAKE FOREST: Tanner Price returns. He threw for 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he’ll be helped by the fact that standout receiver Michael Campanaro returns. Price completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,300 yards.
IN GOOD SHAPE
VIRGINIA: Phillip Sims returns, but Michael Rocco transferred. Sims is the most likely starter, but how much playing time will David Watford see? While sharing time with Rocco last season, Sims finished with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,263 yards.
MARYLAND: C.J. Brown, who tore his ACL before the start of the 2012 season, is the most likely starter. This position can only get better for Maryland in 2013, as the Terps were down to their fifth-string quarterback last season. He started five games in 2011, but this would be his first full season as starter.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Senior Chase Rettig returns. He started all 12 games last season, completed 54.2 percent of his passes, threw for 3,065 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The reason BC isn’t in the “great shape” category is because Rettig will have his 103rd offensive coordinator. The good news is that Ryan Day is a former BC offensive assistant, so it’s not like they just met.
DUKE: Veteran Sean Renfree has to be replaced. Anthony Boone isn't a rookie, but this will be his first season as a full-time starter. Boone has had the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks on the roster, including Renfree. Boone played in 11 games in 2012, completed 51.6 percent of his passes (49 of 95) for 531 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
COMPETITION IS ON
FLORIDA STATE: Manuel must be replaced. Clint Trickett is the leading candidate heading into the spring, and he has the edge in experience, but he will compete with Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston. Trickett started two games in 2011, filling in for the injured Manuel, but this past season he only threw the ball 34 times. Coker played in four games and threw it five times.
GEORGIA TECH: Tevin Washington must be replaced. Vad Lee is the front-runner heading into the spring, but Justin Thomas will give him plenty of competition. Lee didn’t start any games in 2012, but he got plenty of meaningful snaps and ran for 544 yards and nine touchdowns, and threw for 596 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
NC STATE: Glennon must be replaced. This position is a huge question mark for the Pack, especially considering the program has gone through a staff change, with Dave Doeren taking over. Manny Stocker and Pete Thomas are the front-runners heading into spring ball. Stocker threw the ball just twice in 2012 as a true freshman, and Thomas has two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2012 season per NCAA rules because he transferred from Colorado State.
PITT: Panthers fans rejoined when the final seconds ticked off the clock in the BBVA Compass Bowl because they won't have to watch Tino Sunseri play another down. Sunseri did start for three seasons, but this program is looking for a major upgrade at the position. Competition in the spring should focus on transfer Tom Savage, a former Freshman All-American, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, a four-star recruit from the class of 2012.
SYRACUSE: The Orange have to replace record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, who just had the best single-season passing year in school history. They thought they had an incoming stud in Zach Allen, but the Texas recruit de-committed after coach Doug Marrone left for Buffalo, and Allen pledged to TCU. That leaves the job wide open in the spring between backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.
This is not the ACC power rankings you are used to. It is bigger. Let’s hope it’s not badder. The first version of the 2013 ACC power rankings reflects the addition of Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange. There are 14 teams here (and Boston College is still last). Welcome to the league, Pitt and Cuse.
There are still plenty of questions for several teams that have players still undecided about their NFL careers, but this is your first take on a ranking likely to change many times between now and the opening kickoff. Lots can happen (and does) during signing day, spring ball and summer camp, but here is how Andrea Adelson and I think the ACC will shape up this fall based on what we know now:
1. Clemson -- With quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris working together again, the Tigers would have the best coordinator/quarterback combo returning in the ACC. The defense should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU was a monumental springboard for the program heading into the offseason.
2. Florida State -- The Seminoles will be going through a transition, as coach Jimbo Fisher has to replace at least five assistants on his staff, as well as starting quarterback EJ Manuel. With several players, including defensive end Bjoern Werner, leaving early for the NFL draft, the Noles will have to reload.
3. Miami -- The Hurricanes hoped their self-imposed bowl ban was a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions. With quarterback Stephen Morris returning, along with ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson and what could be one of the best offensive lines in the ACC, expectations should be much higher for the Canes in Year 3 under Al Golden.
4. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets will have some momentum and confidence to build on after their bowl win over USC, but more importantly, they’ve got an experienced, talented roster to work with. Georgia Tech will have eight starters back on a defense that made measurable progress in the second half of the season.
5. UNC -- Coach Larry Fedora is going to have to work some magic in trying to replace leading rusher/returner Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper. Quarterback Bryn Renner will be a senior, though, and the Tar Heels have other talented running backs waiting in the wings.
6. Pitt -- The moment every Pitt fan has been waiting for -- Tino Sunseri will no longer be the starting quarterback in 2013. Does that mean the position gets an automatic upgrade? Promising running back Rushel Shell returns, and Pitt's defense should be much better, but questions remain on the offensive line.
7. Virginia Tech -- The school has yet to announce any staff changes, quarterback Logan Thomas has yet to announce whether or not he is returning for his senior season, and the Hokies open the schedule against national champion Alabama. Doesn’t look good.
8. Syracuse -- Major questions surround the Orange now that coach Doug Marrone has left for the Buffalo Bills. This is a team that already had to replace starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, all-Big East tackle Justin Pugh, record-setting receiver Alec Lemon and leading tackler Shamarko Thomas. But Syracuse does have 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis. Many questions must be answered before 2013 begins.
9. Maryland -- It can only get better, right? Maryland was down to its fifth-string quarterback last year, linebacker Shawn Petty. Starter C.J. Brown should be ready to return to the starting lineup this summer and healed from a torn ACL. The defense has some big shoes to fill, but the Terps should have enough experience to be bowl bound in their final season in the ACC.
10. Wake Forest -- The Deacs were thrown off track last season by injuries and suspensions and should be a better team this year. Quarterback Tanner Price returns for his senior season, along with receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he can stay healthy.
11. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace quarterback Sean Renfree and his top target, ACC record-setting receiver, Conner Vernon. Duke went to its first bowl game since 1994, but the program still has something to prove after losing its last five games of the season. The Coastal Division should collectively be stronger this year.
12. Virginia -- Phillip Sims will take over at quarterback after the transfer of Michael Rocco, but how much time will David Watford see under center? The hires of Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta were smart moves, but the staff will have to find a way to extract more out of many of the same players who struggled last year.
13. NC State -- Quarterback Mike Glennon is out, and first-year coach Dave Doeren is in. The Wolfpack will have an entirely different look this fall, and some bumps in the road should be expected as the program begins a new era under Doeren.
14. Boston College -- The Eagles have lots of work to do under first-year coach Steve Addazio. It all starts with recruiting, but the staff is also going to have to find a way to improve the running game and get the defense back to its stingy ways.
First Virginia coach Mike London fired four of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid -- a man London likes very much. Quarterback Michael Rocco decided to transfer (can you blame him?), and now Rocco has blasted London for his use of a two-quarterback system (just like many ACC fans have all season long):
"It's an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVa," Rocco told Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times. "It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me."
London's decision to fire Reid was as puzzling as his use of the quarterbacks this year, which leads me to believe it wasn't entirely his decision. If this was an administrative move forced upon London, it was the wrong one, and London is going to take some heat for it. Reid was tasked with coaching a group that had to replace seven starters and was very young. Virginia was No. 31 in the country in scoring defense and showed progress every week. Don't forget the offense in that two-quarterback mess was turning it over every other play and putting the defense back on the field again.
Arguably the biggest disappointment for Virginia was its inability to run the ball, not the defense. Virginia was supposed to have two of the ACC's top offensive tackles in Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. With Kevin Parks and Perry Jones in the backfield, along with talent up front, there's no reason Virginia should have ranked No. 96 in the country in rushing offense. That certainly doesn't fall on Reid.
London, just one year removed from being named the ACC's Coach of the Year, has a bit of a mess to clean up in Charlottesville, starting with hiring a defensive coordinator. Look for the Hoos to go in a different direction regarding style and philosophy, otherwise it really wouldn't make any sense. And Phillip Sims better be every bit as good as many seem to think he is. Otherwise, we'll have Sims and David Watford repeating the Sims and Rocco storyline, and there will only be one scapegoat left.
Coach Mike London announced that quarterback Michael Rocco has been granted his transfer request, and that he has fired four members of his coaching staff. Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Jim Reid, defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson, running backs coach Mike Faragalli and tight ends coach Shawn Moore are all out in the wake of a disappointing 4-8 season and last-place finish in the Coastal Division.
London also announced safeties coach Anthony Poindexter will no longer be the Cavaliers’ special-teams coordinator but will remain on staff.
The news on Rocco does not come as a huge shock, considering the way London rotated him and Phillip Sims this season. Rocco entered the year as the starter, then lost his job to Sims, then shared duties with him in the final games of the season. He ended 2012 with 1,917 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
His 2,671 passing yards in 2011 ranks as the fourth best single-season total in Virginia history. He leaves the Cavalier program ranked eighth on the all-time passing list with 4,731 yards. Sims, who transferred in from Alabama this season, should now enter spring ball as the starter for the Hoos.
"After meeting with Michael and discussing his future with our program and his personal goals and interests, I understand his desire to complete his college football career elsewhere," London said in a statement. "Michael has been an outstanding member of our program on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I appreciate the competitive nature, work ethic and leadership he brought to our program and I wish him the best in his future endeavors."
As for the staff changes, all four coaches have been members of London’s staff since he took over the UVa program in December 2009. Hanson and Faragalli were also members of London’s staff at Richmond during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. We had seen marked improvement from the young UVa defense in the second half of the season, but that wasn't enough to save Reid's job.
"After conducting a complete evaluation of the program and discussing my thoughts with administration, there are a number of areas we need to improve on and it starts with me as the head coach," London said in a statement. "The decision to release these four coaches is very difficult, but one I feel is necessary in order to meet the goals we have set for the Virginia football program. I have coached with some of these men for many years, won a national championship with some, and I truly appreciate their dedication and commitment, and more importantly, their friendships. I wish them all the best."
The total buyout for the four assistant coaches is $1.36 million, though that number could decrease with future employment.
1. SEC > ACC. And it is not even close. It was a disastrous weekend for the ACC in its head-to-head matchups against the top conference in all the land, going 0-4 on a pitiful Saturday. No. 10 Florida State wanted to prove all its doubters wrong. Instead, the Seminoles were physically manhandled in a 37-26 loss to their in-state rival, No. 4 Florida. No. 11 Clemson wanted to prove this was the year it could get past South Carolina, with starting quarterback Connor Shaw and starting running back Marcus Lattimore out. Instead, the high-flying Tigers offense had no answers for Jadeveon Clowney, and scored a season low in points in a 27-17 loss -- their fourth straight in the series. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was clobbered by No. 3 Georgia and Wake Forest was walloped by Vanderbilt for the second consecutive season. The average score in those four ACC-SEC matchups was not pretty: SEC 40-19. And it was the first time since 2009 that Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech all lost their in-state rivalry games.
3. Forget about filling every bowl slot. With Wake Forest losing, and Miami and North Carolina ineligible while serving postseason bans, the ACC will not be able to fill all its bowl slots this season. As of right now, the ACC has six teams eligible for eight available slots. Georgia Tech is one of those teams eligible. The Yellow Jackets are in a very interesting situation at 6-6. Because they play in the ACC title game, they could very well finish with a losing record. If there are 70 or more bowl-eligible teams, they would have to ask for a waiver from the NCAA to participate in the bowl game. UCLA had its waiver granted last season in a similar situation. If there are not 70 bowl-eligible teams, Georgia Tech might not need to file a waiver based on revised NCAA bowl eligibility rules. There are currently 69 bowl-eligible teams, with Pittsburgh and Connecticut vying for eligibility next weekend.
4. Virginia Tech is in. The Hokies left no room to spare in their quest to make it to their 20th consecutive bowl game. This has been one of the most difficult seasons in quite a while for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, but the Hokies found a way to beat in-state rival Virginia for the ninth straight time when Cody Journell nailed a 29-yard field goal as time ran out. It was probably fitting that Virginia cost itself a chance to win thanks to a turnover. Antone Exum intercepted Michael Rocco in the closing minutes, setting up the winning field goal for Journell. Virginia Tech overcame a second-half deficit for the second straight week, and has been as close to living on the edge as a bowl team can be. But the Hokies live on to see another game.
5. Miami: woulda, shoulda, coulda. I am sure Miami fans have been wondering what could have been after the Hurricanes won a 52-45 shootout with Duke on Saturday. We know now that Miami cost itself a chance to play in its first ACC title game after it self-imposed a bowl ban early last week. The move was necessary with an NCAA investigation ongoing. But I am sure it still hurts the players who never quit on the season, who put in an incredible effort to far exceed any expectations that folks had for them. Miami was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal and ended up in a tie for first with a team that essentially returns everybody next season. Last season, Miami lost the game after a postseason ban was announced. We have seen how far this team has come, maturitywise, this season -- as the Hurricanes refused to give up Saturday and pulled out the win.
The bad: Wake Forest’s offense. There wasn’t any. The Deacs didn’t reach the end zone once in the 38-0 loss at Notre Dame, and were held to only 55 yards rushing and nine first downs, and 4-of-15 third-down conversions.
The baffling: Virginia’s two-quarterback rotation. Phillip Sims was hot, and Michael Rocco was cold -- literally. He had to be, coming off the bench and throwing a dreadful pick, followed by a fumble in the Cavaliers’ 37-13 loss to UNC. Pick one, any one.
The news: While the games were being played Saturday, news broke that Maryland is interested in joining the Big Ten. The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents will meet Monday morning to vote whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference, a source told ESPN.
The eligible: Both Georgia Tech and Miami became bowl eligible this weekend with wins over Duke and South Florida, respectively.
The relieved: Virginia Tech. The Hokies barely escaped Chestnut Hill with their bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech must now beat UVa in the season finale to reach six wins.
The champs: Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division and guaranteed itself a spot in the Dec. 1 ACC championship game with a 41-14 win at Maryland.
The perfect 10s: Both Florida State and Clemson earned 10-win regular seasons for the first time in a long time. The Noles did it for the first time since 2003, and Clemson did it for the first time since 1981.
The ugly: NC State’s defense. The Pack allowed Clemson to rack up 754 total yards, 34 first downs and 62 points.
The record: NC State receiver Tobais Palmer set an ACC record with 496 all-purpose yards. He had 277 yards on kickoff returns and caught seven passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
The record II: Boyd’s eight touchdowns were a school and ACC record.
The record III: Clemson’s 102 plays were the most in school history.
The ridiculous: How many offensive records have been set this year.
The quote: "I think we came up two yards short for the all-time school record tonight, so we have some improving to do.” -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney of his team’s 754 yards, according to The Associated Press.
Neither team is going bowling.
An ineligible North Carolina team played the role of spoiler once again, crushing Virginia’s bowl hopes Thursday night with a nationally televised 37-13 victory in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5 ACC) were cruising after back-to-back wins, but the Tar Heels brought them crashing back to reality and ended any possibility of Virginia playing in the postseason.
It wasn’t just North Carolina, though. Virginia made too many mistakes -- six of them, to be exact. A six-game losing streak put Virginia behind weeks ago, and the Cavaliers were trying desperately to get out of a crater-sized hole they began digging Sept. 15 in a 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech. Back-to-back victories over NC State and Miami gave them hope, but in a must-win situation against the Tar Heels, the margin of error proved too slim to overcome.
Virginia’s errors were costly, and North Carolina’s defense made a statement after allowing Georgia Tech 68 points just five days earlier. Virginia was just 2-of-15 on third down, and 3-of-6 on fourth. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams played like he was auditioning for the NFL, and UNC (7-4, 4-3 ACC) came up with crucial stops. UVa also stopped itself.
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a pick-six in the second quarter, and Darius Jennings dropped a wide-open, would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia also had the ball on UNC’s 1-yard line on fourth and goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Kevin Parks was pushed back for a loss of two yards as UNC preserved a 20-13 lead. North Carolina followed up with a 97-yard touchdown drive and never looked back.
North Carolina has one game remaining, home against Maryland, while Virginia must still face rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The subplot to the Commonwealth Cup has changed now that Virginia won’t be bowling, but the Hokies can still clinch a postseason trip with a win at Boston College on Saturday, then another against the Cavaliers on Nov. 24.
The question now is if Virginia call pull a North Carolina and play the role of spoiler.
Just about everybody buried Virginia after the Hoos went into their bye week on a six-game losing streak.
Too many turnovers. Too many penalties. Too much inconsistency.
But a strange thing happened at the bottom of the heap. Virginia started winning. The same team that had trouble scoring points and holding onto the football has combined for 78 points and omore than 900 yards of offense in the past two weeks, with just two turnovers. The two-game points spree is the most Virginia has scored in consecutive games against FBS opponents in seven years.
The wins have not come against the dregs of the league, either. NC State and Miami had winning records going into their games, but Virginia (4-6, 2-4) found ways to win both. Now comes another test against another winning team -- Coastal Division rival North Carolina (6-4, 3-3) tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
“A lot of people wrote us off," said Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, a huge reason why Virginia has seemingly turned its season around. "A six-game losing streak doesn’t look promising, but we really had a confidence among our guys and a maturity to just keep pressing on. Coach (Mike) London emphasized it in our meetings and everything we do, just that we’re a couple plays away -- a couple less turnovers away, a couple forced turnovers away, a couple of big plays away from winning the close games we lost.
"We just buckled down and had a maturity not to give up, keep pressing on. That’s what we’ve done the past couple of weeks, and that’s what we’ll continue to do to hopefully win out.”
London unveiled a two-quarterback system against NC State, playing both Rocco and Phillip Sims. Generally speaking, teams that play two quarterbacks often have no answers at quarterback. But Virginia is 2-0 with both playing, though Rocco really emerged in the win against Miami last week. He threw four touchdown passes, including the game-winner with six seconds remaining.
Still, London has no plans to do anything differently against the Tar Heels -- who are coming into the game without the momentum Virginia has. North Carolina gave up 68 points last week in a loss to Georgia Tech and has now had a short work week to fix its mistakes and get ready for another game.
But perhaps the short week benefits North Carolina.
"You have a bad taste in your mouth, you only have a few days and hopefully you get that bad taste out of your mouth so you don't have to wait all the way until Saturday," UNC coach Larry Fedora said. "I think our guys have handled the short week well in practices, the way they have done it, gone about it; their maturity, the way we have wanted to have energy out there, but also be able to take something off of them. But I guess the real proof is going to be how we play Thursday night."
The obvious player storyline involves North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who ranks No. 3 in the nation in all-purpose yards. Virginia had major problems trying to stop Miami all-purpose runner Duke Johnson last week. Johnson had 368 all-purpose yards against the Hoos, fourth most in ACC history and best all-time for a freshman. Johnson ranks No. 9 in the nation in all-purpose yards.
Since 1940, the winning team in this series has had the most yards rushing 55 of 69 times, with one game featuring the same yardage for both.
If Virginia can find a way to slow Bernard down, the Hoos will have a great shot to keep their bowl hopes alive -- just weeks after a 2-6 start to the season had many wondering just what had happened to this team.
"I know every team in America could say that they’ve worked hard, and they want to for their seniors, but this group of seniors has really been special to us," Rocco said the prospects of going bowling. "They helped us turn the program around last year and did a great job at that, and now we’ve kind of overcome adversity and continue to work. We’re taking it one game at a time, but getting to that bowl game would be awesome for our seniors."
The record heading into Week 12 is 65-16 (80.2 percent).
Lesson learned about the Jackets and bye weeks?
Georgia Tech 48, Duke 38: Defense? What defense? Not in Atlanta. Won’t matter. Again. Georgia Tech will control the clock, quarterback Vad Lee will come off the bench and once again direct the offense to score after score against a Duke defense that has allowed 104 points in the past two games.
Florida State 38, Maryland 10: The No. 10 Seminoles haven’t been an impressive road team this year, but they should dominate a young, overmatched and undermanned Maryland team. The Terps managed only 10 points and 180 total yards last week against Clemson, and the Noles have a better defense than the Tigers. Maryland will give its best effort in the final home game of the season, but the Noles will clinch a share of the Atlantic Division title and secure a trip to the ACC championship game.
Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 14: The Eagles gave Notre Dame their best shot last week; there’s no reason to think they’d give the Hokies anything less. This will be the lone defensive struggle in the ACC this week, but Bud Foster’s group will pick up where it left off against FSU and be the difference in this game. Hokies get their first road win of the season.
Clemson 38, NC State 17: This game was on this week’s upset watch, but it was No. 3 because it’s the least likely to happen. Clemson should handle this test with ease. Here’s your KOD, Tigers: Not. Even. Close. NC State will have at least two turnovers, Mike Glennon will struggle, and Clemson’s offense will wear the Wolfpack out. Coach Dabo Swinney said NC State embarrassed his program last year. Don’t think they won’t remember that.
Miami 34, South Florida 20: The Canes become bowl eligible this week and win their final home game of the season. The Bulls’ defense won’t have an answer for Duke Johnson, and Miami will still get its passing game going despite an injury-laden receiving corps. South Florida ranks No. 114 in the country in turnover margin, and that will be the difference in this game.
Andrea's Big East pick -- Miami 30, USF 17: We have no idea whether Matt Floyd or Bobby Eveld will start at quarterback for USF. Compound that uncertainty with the loss of several other starters on offense, and the Bulls are going to have a M*A*S*H unit going to Miami. There is some reason for hope, though. Miami has one of the worst defenses in the country, and USF gets highly motivated for games like this. The Bulls have won in Miami, so they are not going to be intimidated. Here is where I think Miami has the huge advantage: freshman all-purpose player Duke Johnson. USF will have a hard time slowing him down.
Virginia 31, North Carolina 28: The Cavaliers are on a roll. It’s that simple. Quarterback Michael Rocco and the offense are confident and clicking, the defense has been sharp on third downs and North Carolina will miss kicker Casey Barth in a close game. This should be an entertaining Thursday night game that comes down to the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame 28, Wake Forest 14: This will be Note Dame linebacker Manti Te'o’s final game in South Bend, so expect another Heisman-worthy performance from arguably the nation’s top linebacker. The Deacs will be well-coached and well-prepared, but they’ll also be overmatched on the road against a better team. The Irish will remain undefeated and complete another 3-0 sweep against the ACC with wins over Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest.
Didn’t matter. Virginia will still use two quarterbacks on Thursday night against North Carolina.
“As we go into this game, both quarterbacks will play,” said Virginia coach Mike London, “because that seems to be a formula that's been successful for us right now.”
In Chapel Hill last week, Georgia Tech backup quarterback Vad Lee came off the bench and led the Yellow Jackets on three consecutive touchdown drives. Lee finished the shootout with 169 yards passing and a touchdown, and rushed for 112 yards and two more scores in the 68-50 win.
Didn’t matter. Georgia Tech will still use two quarterbacks on Saturday against Duke.
“Unless something crazy happens in practice,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, “we will probably continue to do it how we’ve been doing it.”
Georgia Tech and Virginia fans everywhere: Huh?
Both programs enter Week 12 confident from back-to-back wins under the direction of two quarterbacks, but last week, Rocco and Lee separated themselves from their competition -- at least in the eyes of many watching. London has been criticized for his rotation of quarterbacks, and Georgia Tech fans have been eager to see what Lee can do since the day he walked on campus. Both coaches have their reasons for keeping it status quo -- namely two straight wins. Virginia backup Phillip Sims played well against Miami without any turnovers. Georgia Tech starter Tevin Washington actually graded 20 points higher than Lee in the coaching staff’s film evaluation.
The most important aspect of both scenarios is the willingness of all four quarterbacks to continue to play nicely with each other. They’ve all been selfless with their playing time and roles, and will have to continue to be in the final two weeks of the season as the game plan remains the same.
“I refuse to second guess where we are now because I think what we're doing now with [Rocco], it’s the best thing for this team,” London said.
Over the six-game losing streak, Virginia’s quarterbacks combined to throw five touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rocco was benched in favor of Sims midway through the losing streak and Sims started against Duke. It didn’t go so well, as UVa lost 42-17. The following week against Maryland wasn’t much better.
With the Cavaliers trailing 27-13 in the fourth quarter, Rocco relieved Sims and promptly directed a 10-play, 81-yard drive. His 24-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee pulled Virginia within 27-20 with 4:10 left. That would be the final score.
“My ultimate job is to help the team win the game, whether it’s a two-quarterback system, one, or I’m playing or not,” Rocco said. “I just compete, help make the team better, help make the other quarterbacks better, and help make myself better. If I do that, I feel like we can put ourselves in position to win.”
Johnson said he is not ready to name a starter for this week, but it will be Senior Day in Atlanta, and Washington is a senior captain.
“Vad has a long time to play football here and if he plays as well as he played on Saturday, [he] will play a majority of the snaps,” Johnson said. “… We didn’t take [Tevin] out because he wasn’t playing well, we just took him out because the plan was to give those guys a couple series. Then, once the thing got going, Vad did nothing to have me take him out of the game. Once he’s scoring on every possession, it’s hard to take him out. When we got to a point in the second half when we’re so deep in to it, to me it is then Vad’s game.”
Lee, a redshirt freshman, has played in eight games this year. In the run-based offense, he has thrown three touchdowns and one interception and has run for eight touchdowns. He is fourth on the team in rushing with 434 yards. Washington is second on the team with 536 rushing yards and has 17 rushing touchdowns -- No. 2 nationally among quarterbacks and one shy of tying the school’s single-season record, held by Joshua Nesbitt.
Lee said the uncertainty of how much playing time he’ll get isn’t a factor in his preparation during the week.
“It doesn’t affect it at all,” Lee said. “I go with the ones and the twos at practice. I get a lot of reps in, getting ready, getting mentally prepared. I’m comfortable with both groups and the receivers and everything. It’s no pressure at all.
“You just have to take it one day at a time. It’s a learning experience, a growing experience. You just sit back and understand things from a different perspective; relax, let things come to you and try to stay as humble as possible.”
Rocco said he’s a confident person by nature and tries not to be overconfident, cocky or arrogant. Truth is, though, he thinks he can get the job done -- and he believed it on Saturday against the Canes.
With six seconds remaining, Rocco completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to McGee in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score. On that final drive, he directed the Cavaliers 87 yards in 2:32, and converted two fourth downs along the way. He either passed or ran for all 87 yards during the drive.
“Especially at the end of the game, I really felt we were going to win, we were going to take it down the field and win the game,” Rocco said. “I felt like I was the guy to do it. I felt like our offense believed in me, we believed in ourselves to get it done and we did. It was a really cool experience and a much-needed win.”
They key is for both programs -- and all of their quarterbacks -- to keep it up.