NCF Nation: Perry Hills

You’ve heard the saying that time heals all wounds?

Well, in Maryland’s case, time healed all quarterbacks.

One year after an unfathomable rash of injuries to four quarterbacks devastated Maryland’s starting lineup, the Terps are finally strong again – not to mention deep – at the position. Starter C.J. Brown, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in August, is once again at the top of the depth chart. It’s not just his name, though, that should have Maryland fans excited.

Perry Hills, who also tore his ACL last year, is back.

Caleb Rowe, who tore his ACL, is back.

It’s quite a turnaround from last fall, when the Terps were down to their fifth-string quarterback – scout team linebacker Shawn Petty. Now, Hills is able to run and will be cleared by August. Rowe has been cleared to participate in 7-on-7 drills. Most important, Brown has been cleared for everything.

“All of those guys will be healthy,” coach Randy Edsall said. “It will be great competition. It will be good to have all of them out there, and when you bring Shane [Cockerille] into the mix, it will be more than adequate at that position.”

Brown was involved in practices and 7-on-7 drills this spring, but he wasn’t allowed to have any contact. He has been granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and so still has two years left to play. He entered last fall as the projected starter, but this will be his first full season as a starter. In 2011, Brown pushed former quarterback Danny O’Brien for the starting job and started five games. He led the team with five rushing touchdowns that year and finished second in rushing yards. Once he was injured last summer, many immediately wrote the Terps off, but Maryland surprised the ACC with a gritty and relentless effort into November.

Now, with Brown back and the core of the group returning, the Terps are already better off than when they finished 2012.

Edsall said he has no concerns about Brown’s status heading into the fall, despite the fact it has been so long since he has taken a meaningful snap.

“You could see the progression and the progress he was making throughout the spring in those drills,” Edsall said. “I was very pleased. You could see the confidence he was gaining each time he was out there, and now that we’re involved into doing conditioning and lifting with our eight hours per week, he’s doing well. There’s not going to be any limitation, there’s not going to be any hesitation I know on his part. I’m not concerned about him. He has really worked extremely hard to put himself in the best possible position to be as healthy and as sound as he can be, so no, there’s no hesitation on my part. I don’t believe we’ll see any hesitation on CJ’s part, either.”
Maryland opens spring practice Saturday, with plenty of questions on both offense and defense. I had a chance to catch up with coach Randy Edsall earlier this week to preview the spring. Here is a little of what he had to say.

Going into the spring what’s your No. 1 priority?

RE: I want to get everybody to do their job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. Offensively, it’s to make sure that we’re going to take advantage of our playmakers and at least come out with eight offensive linemen we feel really good about and see how Ricardo (Young) can do handling all the snaps he’s going to get. Then defensively, for us to come out as a swarming, tough physical defense in terms of trying to find out who our best 11 are and then work to create a top 22.

You mentioned Ricardo, obviously taking the majority reps with C.J. Brown still limited. How do you approach building the chemistry you need on offense and getting everything done to prepare for the fall knowing you don’t have your starting quarterback?

[+] EnlargeMaryland's Randy Edsall
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRERandy Edsall and Maryland begin spring practice on Saturday.
RE: Hopefully from a 7-on-7 standpoint, C.J. gets some of that work. That will be great, but if not, just being on the field and having the presence and seeing things -- there’s going to be plenty enough time between the summer and preseason practice in order to develop chemistry and consistency that we would want out of all those guys.

So the backup job is wide open for competition with Ricardo, and then Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills when they come back?

RE: There’s no question.

In terms of the running back situation, I know Justus Pickett transferred, and Wes Brown is out with an injury. Do you have concerns over depth?

RE: Brandon Ross is going to be the guy who’s the No. 1 guy in the spring, and then Albert Reid, and Joe Riddle, and then we also have Kenny Goins. Kenny is a guy who can be a running back and/or a fullback. Wes had a shoulder done, then had ankle done from an old high school injury, so he’ll be ready to go come the fall. We’ll have four guys there, and then Kenny’s a guy that can carry the ball, too.

What will you work on this spring to try and get the run game going?

RE: That to me all starts up front with the offensive line and I really feel like going into the spring you’ve got Mike Madaras at left tackle, De’Onte Arnett at left guard, then you have Sal (Conaboy) and Evan Mulrooney at center, Andy Zeller at right guard, and Nick Klemm at right tackle. And Silvano Altamirano is a guard, and Ryan Doyle at tackle. My biggest thing is I want to find at least three tackles, three guards and we have two centers that have played. Now we have to get more consistent and do a better job up front. In terms of who we’ll have at quarterback, who we’ll have at running back, who we’ll have at wide receiver gives us some weapons from a skill position. Now we have to do is make sure we’re consistent up front, so that to me is the biggest thing offensively this spring is the offensive line and getting them to be more consistent with their assignments, more consistent with their technique and fundamentals and developing that cohesiveness with guys playing together and hopefully guys staying healthy.

You mentioned the skill position players you do have. At receiver, you’ve got this abundance of talent and depth. How do you see the competition playing out?

RE: Deon Long and then Amba Etta behind him right now. Amba showed us a lot last year and we redshirted him. There we’ve got to have tremendous competition and guys with the ability to make plays. Then on the other side, you’ve got Nigel King, who came on at the end of the year last year, made some plays against North Carolina, and then another freshman Malcolm Culmer, whom we redshirted and then you have Stefon (Diggs) as a slot guy. It gives you a lot of opportunities to get the ball in peoples’ hands who can make something happen after they catch it. Those are the things we have to do to make sure that we find guys who can make the plays on the ball and distribute that. We’ve got some weapons there. So if people want to load the box, you’ve got to make sure we can throw it and catch it, and if they want to worry about some of the receivers we have, then you’ve got to have the ability to run the football.

Is this the best group of talent and depth you’ve had at the skill positions?

RE: Yeah I think so. That’s where we have to get everybody to understand that yeah, they do have ability but they have to go out there and work hard each and every day. If they do that, we’ve got the ability to make a lot of things happen. We’ve got to get the people up front on the offensive line to be really tough, sound, good technicians and competing every play. If we do that, then because of the running backs and because of the receivers we have, that can make their job a little bit easier.

Defensively, you’re losing a lot of your leaders. Where are you looking for the leadership on that group?

RE: We played a lot of people on defense last year so it’s not like we’re going in with guys who haven’t played a whole bunch. But now guys like Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Darius Kilgo, Matt Robinson, who we’re going to make him an outside linebacker as opposed to a safety, and then Keith Bowers. Those are the guys that have to step up from a leadership standpoint. And then guys like Quinton Jefferson, who played last year as a true freshman. He has to be more productive for us this year and then Anthony Nixon is back, so it’s just a matter of other guys stepping up in those roles. The thing is, we’re going to be playing in the same scheme, so they’ll be better from that standpoint. They’ll be a year older more, a year more mature, a year stronger. But that’s the thing: who are going to be those leaders?

What’s the strongest part of the defense?

RE: The one thing I take a look at in terms of up front, I really think Darius Kilgo has a chance to take his game to another level. Quinton Jefferson, him and Justin Anderson fighting it out at the one end and then Keith Bowers and, Roman Braglio -- a young man with a tremendous motor that we redshirted last year. We’ve got to get one of the safety spots shored up, between Sean Davis and A.J. Hendy and then I think at the corner, Will Likely and Alvin Hill, you may see them because they have a lot of skill set. They can find a way to get on the field, whether as a nickel or dime package. I think the strength of defense is the athletic ability and the ability to be able to run. That’s something that’s going to help us.
Maryland's string of season-ending ACL tears continued this past weekend when starting middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield suffered the same injury on a running play with 2:20 remaining in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech.

The school announced on Monday that Hartsfield will miss the rest of the season. Quarterbacks C.J. Brown, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe also tore their ACLs this year.

“This is another tough loss for the program,” coach Randy Edsall said in a prepared statement. “Demetrius is a captain and has been a leader of this defense both on and off the field. I feel terrible for him because I know how much the game means to him. To have his senior year cut short is just disheartening. We will be here to support him through the rehab process and help him with his transition towards the next stage of his career.”

Hartsfield leads the team with 78 tackles this season. He has also totaled seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries. His 338 career stops rank 10th nationally among active players and 15th in school history.

Friday Mailblog

November, 2, 2012
Heading to College Park this weekend to see a true freshman linebacker play quarterback. Huh.

Vegasnole in Las Vegas, Nevada, writes: If FSU wins the ACC are they locked in to the Orange Bowl VS the big east champs? If Clemson wins out and gets a BCS bid they could play A higher ranked team in the Fiesta Bowl. As an FSU fan I would rather that option.

HD: If they win the ACC, the Noles are locked into the Discover Orange Bowl unless they're in the national championship, but they're not locked into playing the Big East champ. Right now it looks like they would play Boise State, which is likely to qualify automatically. If Boise State trips up, then yes, it would be against the Big East champ.

Ryan in Pensacola, Fla., writes: Heather, Is it going to take FSU beating UF by three scores to get some BCS love? It appears the BCS would really have no problem with a 3 loss SEC team ranked ahead of the Noles.

HD: Well, it certainly wouldn't hurt, Ryan. Bottom line is they've got to win out, and other teams have to lose, which they will. It will be interesting to see what would happen with a Clemson win over South Carolina, an FSU win over Florida, a Notre Dame loss at USC, an LSU loss to Alabama, and an Oregon loss to Stanford and/or Oregon State. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Jim Holbert in Chantilly, Va., writes: Heather, I read most of your columns and mostly agree with your viewpoints. I am a lifelong Maryland fan which is mostly unfortunate for me. I have 2 quick questions for you:1. If C.J. Brown had never been injured, how do you think their season would have turned out?2. Where do you see this team going forward in the next 1-3 years?Thanks for your time Heather!

HD: Jim even with Perry Hills I thought the team was going bowling this year. Randy Edsall did a great job of getting his guys to turn things around and believe. I think Edsall has proven that he can win at Maryland, and he probably saved his job this season. The Terps are still going to be behind FSU and Clemson, though, in the Atlantic Division race. I think they can be a program similar to NC State in that every now and then they pull off an upset, but I think being a consistent bowl team is going to be the long-term ceiling as long as FSU and Clemson continue to recruit like they do.

Scott in Avon, N.C., writes: What are the chances UNC runs the table? The next three teams they play are a combined 9-15. If UNC wins out and finishes 9-3 how important would a top 25 appearance be to a team with no goals left?

HD: I think the Tar Heels win out, and I think it's huge for that program and a great success for Larry Fedora. It will help in recruiting, and to finally get over the eight-win hump will be proof that UNC hired the right guy and can move forward knowing it can contend for the ACC title.

Eddie K. in Miami, Fla., writes: Hi Heather,I may be a bit biased about this as a Tar Heels fan, but I was wondering what do you think Bernard's Heisman prospects would have been if he had played every game this season? Thanks

HD: Better, but considering UNC is ineligible for the postseason, he would probably still be overshadowed by the likes of Collin Klein and AJ McCarron, who are both playing for national title contenders. You could ask the same question about Sammy Watkins at Clemson.

Kevin in Richmond, Va., writes: Heather,There has been a lot of talk about Clemson and FSU being in line to help the ACC get 2 BCS bowl teams if they each win out.But, the ACC could get some poisoned candy and have a little deja vu if Virginia Tech, Miami, or Duke beat FSU in the ACC Championship game. This would put a Coastal team into the BCS with the autobid and Clemson if they win out. What are your thoughts? Probably not likely, but anything could happen in Charlotte.

HD: Kevin, you're absolutely right. Anything can happen. We will get a sneak preview of what an FSU-VT matchup might look like next week when the Noles head to Blacksburg. We've seen what happens when FSU and Duke play, along with FSU and Miami. If those scores are any indication of what's to come in Charlotte, this should be a moot point.

Happy Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2012
Happy Halloween, ACC fans! Andrea and I decided to have a little fun today with some spooky stuff in the ACC. We see you guys out there dressed up as officials …

Cursed: Maryland’s quarterbacks. It’s the only way to explain it. Some sort of hex. Following the transfer of Danny O’Brien to Wisconsin, starter C.J. Brown tore his ACL. His backup, Perry Hills, then tore his ACL. Backup Devin Burns also suffered a season-ending injury, and then -- as if all of that weren’t enough of a spell -- true freshman Caleb Rowe also suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Coach Randy Edsall called it unlucky. Spooky if you ask me.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/US PresswireThis season, coach David Cutcliffe and Duke have been scaring opponents for a change.
Back from the dead: Duke. The Devils have done it. For the first time since 1994, Duke is bowl eligible. Not only have the Blue Devils reached the six-win mark, they also have a chance to win the Coastal Division. With a 6-3 record (.667) Duke is off to its best start in five seasons under head coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils have compiled a 5-0 record at Wallace Wade Stadium this season, matching the school record for home victories in a season. They’re alive.

Graveyard: Virginia. Bury ‘em. The Cavaliers have officially replaced Boston College at the bottom of the ACC power rankings, and have lost six straight heading into Saturday’s road trip to NC State. They have yet to win an ACC game, and haven’t won since Sept. 8. Nobody in the country ranks worse than Virginia in turnover margin. It’s been a hard fall after last season’s success. Odds are the Hoos don’t get back up again this season.

Scary movie: Pitt 35, Virginia Tech 17: Nobody but Pitt wants to watch this horror flick again. The Hokies had four turnovers. Logan Thomas had one touchdown and three interceptions against a defense that managed just one sack and no turnovers through the season's first two weeks. Virginia Tech had just 59 rushing yards. Pitt jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The Hokies were manhandled up front on both sides and allowed the Panthers 537 total yards.

Nightmare in Carter-Finley Stadium: NC State 17, FSU 16. That was not a bad dream, Seminoles fans, that was a national championship dream dying in Raleigh. Nobody expected that to happen, not after FSU jumped to No. 3 in the rankings after its win against Clemson. Not after NC State struggled so badly in losses to Tennessee and Miami. But Tom O'Brien knows how to cast a spell at least once a season. Double Double, toil and trouble ... bring me FSU on the double! His players responded, rallying from a 16-0 halftime deficit to score the game-winning touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds remaining. Poof!

Thriller: Speaking of the Wolfpack, NC State has probably been involved in more thrillers than any team in the country. The Wolfpack have gone down to the wire in four straight games. The thrills began at Miami on Sept. 29, when NC State overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to tie the game with 1:58 to go, only to lose when Miami scored a touchdown with 19 seconds remaining. The following week came the biggest thriller of all, the upset of FSU. Then, they beat Maryland when Terps kicker Brad Craddock missed a 33-yard field goal with 2 seconds left. Last week, they lost to North Carolina when Giovani Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left.

Trick or treat (high stakes game): NC State at Clemson, Nov. 17. For the Tigers to keep their Atlantic Division hopes alive, they must win this game. NC State already took Florida State down this year, but the Wolfpack have had a much harder time beating both teams in the same season. NC State won this matchup last year in decisive fashion, 37-17 so you know Clemson will be looking for revenge.

Jack-o-Lantern: Georgia Tech. Will the light come on for this team in time to make a bowl game? The Jackets have to win three of their final four to keep one of the longest bowl streaks in the nation alive. Georgia Tech has gone bowling 15 straight years, but faces an uphill climb with this remaining schedule: at Maryland, at North Carolina, Duke and at Georgia.
Maryland's defense has been its strength all season -- especially with back-to-back-to-back season-ending injuries to starting quarterbacks.

In Saturday's 20-17 loss to Boston College, the Terps couldn't make the stops when it mattered most, as Chase Rettig completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Johnathan Coleman with 52 seconds left to give Boston College its first FBS and ACC win of the season. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the Eagles and helped them avoid their worst start since 1989.

It was a valiant effort, though, by Maryland true freshman quarterback Caleb Rowe, whose rapid ascension up the depth chart came at the expense of injured teammates C.J. Brown, Perry Hills and Devin Burns. Rowe, once a fourth-string QB who planned to redshirt, completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs midway through the fourth quarter to give Maryland a 17-13 lead. The Terps couldn't hang onto it, though.

Rowe completed 23 of 42 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, but also had three interceptions.

It was a much-needed win for Boston College, whose only win until today was against Maine. If BC wins out, it could still get to a bowl game. Considering No. 5-ranked Notre Dame is still on the schedule -- not to mention road trips to Wake Forest and NC State, plus a home game against Virginia Tech, it seems unlikely. The same can be said for Maryland.

The Terps are in a much better position than BC at 4-4, but two more wins will be hard to come by with Atlantic Division leaders FSU and Clemson still on the schedule. The Terps really needed that win to boost their hopes of reaching bowl eligibility after a 2-10 season. The Eagles, on the other hand, just needed a win.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
Here is a look at what to watch in the ACC in Week 9.

1. Can Clemson break its Thursday night jinx? The Tigers travel to play Wake Forest Thursday, and one thing you will continue to hear throughout the day leading up to the game is how bad they have played on Thursday nights. Clemson is 1-9 in its past 10 Thursday night appearances, with its lone win coming at NC State in 2005. One of the more recent losses came to Wake Forest, 12-7 in 2008. That was the last win for Wake Forest in the series. You should also note that Wake Forest is 4-0 in Thursday night games on ESPN.

2. The best in North Carolina? The annual rivalry game between NC State and North Carolina has arrived. NC State, leader in the Atlantic, will try to extend its winning streak over the Tar Heels to six straight. North Carolina enters off a tough loss to Duke and is 0-2 against state teams this year, also losing to Wake Forest earlier in the season. Coach Larry Fedora wanted to get the attention of his players headed into this game so he had the locker room decorated in red. By the way, Duke has early bragging rights, with a 2-0 record against state teams; Wake Forest is 1-1. This is NC State's first game against an ACC team from North Carolina. The Wolfpack and Blue Devils do not play this year.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney will try to get Clemson a rare Thursday night win. The Tigers are 1-9 in their past 10 Thursday night appearances.
3. Can Duke compete with Florida State? Duke leads the Coastal Division while Florida State still has its eyes on winning the Atlantic, but the big question is whether or not the Blue Devils have what it takes to beat the Seminoles. Becoming bowl eligible has its perks, of course, but beating Florida State for the first time while retaining its lead in the Coastal would be huge. Florida State is 17-0 in the series and has won those contests by an average score of 50-16. Florida State's smallest margin of victory is 19 points -- winning 25-6 in 2007.

4. How does Maryland handle a new QB? The Terps have just been snake-bitten at quarterback, testing their depth at the position. Starter Perry Hills is done for the season with a torn ACL, leaving Maryland scrambling with a real shot at bowl eligibility. Coach Randy Edsall hasn't said who will start, but he is expected to play Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe. It's not as if Maryland has a reliable ground game to help out -- though Wes Brown had a great game last week with 121 yards and a touchdown.

5. Does that mean Boston College has a better chance at its first FBS win? The Eagles have had their share of struggles, but they are the favorite over the Terps in Las Vegas. They are at home for the first time since Sept. 29, and they are facing a team with major questions at quarterback. Still, coach Frank Spaziani has had to deal with his own questions about his future. Losing a very winnable game will only make those questions grow louder.

6. Run D vs. Run O in Atlanta. The game between BYU and Georgia Tech presents your classic matchup between one great rushing offense and one great rushing defense. In this case, Georgia Tech ranks No. 3 in the nation in rushing offense, and BYU ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing defense. The Cougars were a few plays away from upsetting Notre Dame last week, but they have really struggled to find any consistency on offense this year. BYU ranks No. 87 in the nation in scoring offense, and that could play right into the hands of a Georgia Tech defense making strides in its reconfigured scheme.

7. Can Michael Campanaro help Wake Forest? The Deacs have really struggled offensively since Campanaro went down with a broken hand against Duke. Last week, they had 213 total yards of offense in a win over Virginia, their fewest in an ACC win since 1966. In the past two games without him, Wake has scored 30 total points. So coach Jim Grobe is hopeful that a less-than-100 percent Campanaro is better than no Campanaro at all.

8. North Carolina secondary vs. Bryan Underwood and Quintin Payton. The Tar Heels are going to have to keep an eye on Underwood and Payton. Underwood has caught a touchdown pass in a school-record seven straight games. Underwood has 22 catches on the season, but eight of them have gone for scores. Payton, meanwhile, leads the team in receptions and yards and has come up with huge plays for the Wolfpack.

9. Florida State without Chris Thompson. The Seminoles have lost their leading rusher for the season, a big blow when you consider just how well he had been playing in his return from a broken back. But coach Jimbo Fisher is confident in the depth behind Thompson, and will rely on Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Lonnie Pryor to shoulder the load. Florida State did fine with Freeman and Wilder against Miami, but there's no question the Noles were much more effective rushing the ball this year with Thompson in the lineup.

10. Bowl watch. NC State (5-2) becomes bowl eligible with a win over North Carolina; Boston College (1-6) will officially be eliminated from bowl contention with a loss.

Terps' QB situation still in flux

October, 23, 2012
Maryland coach Randy Edsall has a decision to make this week: Devin Burns or Caleb Rowe as the team's next starting quarterback.

Unfortunately for the Terps, those are now the only two eligible scholarship options remaining after the season-ending ACL injuries to C.J. Brown and now Perry Hills. Edsall said on Tuesday he hopes to know by Thursday who his starting quarterback will be for Saturday’s game against Boston College.

Whether he announces it is another question.

“Am I going to say anything at the end of the day Thursday? That’s too far in advance to know that,” Edsall told reporters at his weekly Tuesday news conference. “But we could come out and say something on Thursday or wait until game time.”

Despite the unprecedented run of injuries to Maryland’s starting quarterbacks -- a string of bad luck that extends well beyond this season -- Edsall said those within the program aren’t “down in the dumps.” After a 2-10 finish in 2011, Maryland is now only two wins away from bowl eligibility as they prepare for a road trip to Boston College (1-6), which has the worst record in the ACC and has yet to beat an FBS team. Another win for the Terps isn’t unreasonable, considering BC’s struggles, but Maryland’s quarterback situation has to improve if the Terps are going to become bowl eligible this year.

“You work with what you have to go out and win the game,” Edsall said. “I’m not panicked, upset, or frustrated. You just roll with the punches and go out to get yourself ready for a win.”

Burns is a converted wide receiver, who volunteered to move back to his original position this past summer after Brown was injured. Edsall said that ideally, he would have liked to redshirt Rowe, a true freshman, but Rowe was used in a two-minute situation in Saturday’s 20-18 loss to NC State.

“We had made the decision to go with Devin as No. 2 and Caleb at No. 3,” Edsall said. “I told [Rowe] he had to be ready and be prepared because he hasn’t gotten many reps. In practice he would just do the 2-minute drill and 7-on-7 with the defense. But he has been in the meetings and taking notes. I think it was so impressive that he went in and preformed the way he did with such minimal reps. Ideally, we would have wanted to redshirt him but we weren’t afforded that luxury.”

There are no luxuries for Maryland quarterbacks this year.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
Here’s a look back at Week 8 in the ACC ...

[+] EnlargeClemson defense and Virginia Tech
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireClemson's defense held Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech to just 17 points.
The good: Clemson's defense. This highly criticized group played arguably its best game of the season, forcing Virginia Tech into four turnovers, including one interception safety Jonathan Meeks ran back 74 yards for a touchdown. The Hokies’ 17 points were a season low by an FBS team against Clemson this year.

The bad: Maryland’s quarterback situation. It started when Danny O’Brien transferred, and the hits just keep on coming for the Terps’ quarterbacks. As if it weren’t bad enough to lose starter C.J. Brown to a season-ending knee injury this summer, his backup, Perry Hills, was injured and taken out of Saturday’s game against NC State. And then there were two -- Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns, a former receiver who switched positions this summer just to help out.

The ugly: BC and Virginia are a combined 0-8 in ACC play.

The ugly II: Two calls in the Clemson-Virginia Tech game. The first was a sack that was called on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. It appeared the official blew the whistle too quickly, and it didn’t look anything like a sack. Maybe it was intended to prevent an injury? It nullified what would have been a momentum-changing first down. The other was a questionable call on what looked like a fumble by Sammy Watkins in the third quarter.

The historic: Duke’s sixth win. The Blue Devils are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and they are leading the Coastal Division standings after a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina.

The improved: Georgia Tech’s defense. After a tumultuous bye week in which defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired and assistant Charles Kelly was named the interim, the Jackets regrouped and showed progress in a win over BC. Georgia Tech shut down Boston College in a 37-17 win, holding the Eagles to 296 total yards and 32 on the ground.

The stat: The Hokies have four losses before the end of October for the first time since 1992.

The stat II: Duke had 234 yards rushing -- the most ever on the ground by a David Cutcliffe-coached Duke team.

The quote: "I'm still pretty darn young, and I've got a long time to go," he said, "but I want to leave this place much better than when we walked into it. That's when you know you've done something right." – Duke coach David Cutcliffe, according to USA Today.

The play: Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left to beat North Carolina 33-30.

The play II: With two seconds remaining against NC State, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock’s 33-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright to seal NC State’s 20-18 win.

The painful: Both Florida State and Miami lost their leading rushers to injuries on Saturday. FSU running back Chris Thompson suffered a knee injury and Miami’s Duke Johnson left the game in the second half with a foot injury and didn't return. Coach Al Golden said Johnson would have X-rays after the game, but had no update on the situation during his weekly Sunday afternoon teleconference, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

ACC power rankings: Week 9

October, 22, 2012
It's too bad Duke doesn't play NC State, because then we could really settle who the best team in the state is this year. The ACC race remains as clear as mud as we head into Week 9, but the league's two ranked teams have held their ground the entire season. Despite Florida State's stronghold on the top spot, the Atlantic Division race is still wide open, as four teams have one league loss each. The Coastal Division race is a jumbled mess, as Virginia Tech and Miami both lost AGAIN, and could still win the division. For now, these are the ACC's teams to beat ...

1. Florida State (7-1, 4-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles got off to a slow start against Miami and overcame 12 penalties and five fumbles, two of which were lost, to beat the Canes 33-20. They’ll face a bowl-eligible Duke team this weekend and are looking for their third straight win.

2. Clemson (6-1, 3-1; LW: No. 2) -- The Tigers finally got a strong defensive performance and forced four turnovers in a 38-17 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. The defense allowed a season-low in points to an FBS team and had three interceptions, but the Tigers have a quick turnaround, with a game against Wake Forest on Thursday night.

3. NC State (5-2, 2-1; LW: No. 3) -- It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. Coach Tom O’Brien snapped a 13-game road losing streak against Atlantic Division opponents with the 20-18 win at Maryland. The Wolfpack can control the ACC race, but will likely have to beat rival UNC in Chapel Hill this weekend.

4. Duke (6-2, 3-1; LW: No. 8) -- The Blue Devils were the feel-good story of college football in Week 8, as they became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and took the lead in the Coastal Division standings with a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina. Their toughest tests remain, as they now have back-to-back games against the ACC’s two ranked teams, FSU and Clemson.

5. North Carolina (5-3, 2-2; LW: No. 4) -- The Tar Heels let their lead slip away, as the defense couldn’t make the stops on Duke’s game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. UNC allowed 510 total yards and 234 yards rushing -- the most it has allowed this season. The Tar Heels have another tough in-state test this week against NC State, which has won the past five games in the series.

6. Miami (4-4, 3-2; LW: No. 7) -- The Hurricanes started strong against rival Florida State, but they faded down the stretch and have now lost three straight games. They’re still in the hunt to win the Coastal Division, but will have to beat Virginia Tech at home in a Thursday night game on Nov. 1.

7. Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2; LW: No. 5) -- The Hokies started fast in Death Valley, but the offense was stifled in the third quarter and they couldn’t overcome three first-half turnovers. The defense played one of its best games of the season, but it wasn’t enough to overcome yet another stagnant offensive performance.

8. Maryland (4-3, 2-1; LW: No. 6) -- The loss to NC State might go down as the most heartbreaking of the season for the Terps, who gave a valiant effort despite the injury to starting quarterback Perry Hills. The already-depleted quarterback position is in flux, and Maryland still has to play Florida State and Clemson.

9. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3; LW: No. 9) -- The Deacs couldn’t get anything going on offense, but the defense played well enough to beat Virginia 16-10. It was a critical win for keeping Wake’s bowl hopes alive, but they’ll have to find some offense quickly in order to stand a chance against Clemson on Thursday night.

10. Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-3; LW: No. 10) -- The win over BC was a complete performance and exactly what the Jackets needed after a turbulent bye week in which defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired, but Boston College is so bad it’s hard to really gauge any improvement from Georgia Tech. The Jackets took the first step in turning things around, but they’ve got to keep it up against BYU.

11. Virginia (2-6, 0-4; LW: No. 11) -- What has happened to this team? Most reasonable observers probably thought the Hoos would struggle a bit this year, but this is more like a face-plant. Quarterback play has been a problem, but so has just about everything else.

12. Boston College (1-6, 0-4; LW: No. 12) -- The Eagles have yet to beat an FBS team. They rank No. 112 in the country in rushing offense and No. 119 in rushing defense. Can’t run the ball. Can’t stop the run. Can’t win. Next ...

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
Here’s a look at the lessons learned in the ACC in Week 8, in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeSean Renfree
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSean Renfree led Duke pas North Carolina on Saturday and to the top of the Coastal Division standings.
1. Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. This was the biggest story in the ACC this weekend, as Duke rose to the top of the Coastal Division standings with its 33-30 come-from-behind win over rival North Carolina. Duke finally reached the six-win mark, and it did it against a team that beat Miami and Virginia Tech. One week after getting shut out in the final three quarters of a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils bounced back and proved this season is definitely different in Durham.

2. Losses in the Coastal Division? No problem. Virginia Tech could be 7-5 and win this thing. Miami still controls its own destiny, despite a three-game losing streak. Oh, and Duke is leading the division standings and UNC is ineligible. Any other questions? This race is going to come down to November, whether it’s the Virginia Tech-at-Miami game on Thursday night or, heck, even the regular-season finale between Miami and Duke in Durham. Virginia Tech and Miami both lost ACC games this past weekend, and as far as the Coastal Division race is concerned, it didn’t matter too much.

3. Maryland was relentless, and NC State was lucky. The Wolfpack barely hung on in a 20-18 win in College Park and allowed the game to come down to a missed field goal as time expired. The Terps lost quarterback Perry Hills to a knee injury late in the second quarter and had to use two other quarterbacks to get through the game. NC State is notorious for its letdowns after big wins but narrowly escaped falling into that trap again. Tom O’Brien snapped his 13-game road losing streak against Atlantic Division opponents -- just barely.

4. Clemson’s defense is getting better. The Tigers’ much-maligned group had one of its best games of the season against the Hokies. Safety Jonathan Meeks had two of the Tigers’ three interceptions, and Virginia Tech finished with four turnovers. The Tigers held the Hokies to 60 yards of total offense in the third quarter and came up with some critical fourth-down stops.

5. The official pecking order in the Sunshine State: 1. Florida. 2. Florida State. 3. Miami. For each of the past two years, Florida State has won the unofficial state championship, and it’s still possible to do it again. Based on what we saw this weekend, though, there is a new hierarchy. The Gators absolutely hammered South Carolina in a 44-11 win Saturday. Miami put forth a good effort in the first half against the Noles, who had some problems of their own with 12 penalties and five fumbles -- two of which were lost. The November game between Florida State and Florida will be the final answer on this, but as of right now? Will Muschamp owns the state.
Maryland quarterback Perry Hills, a true freshman who has played admirably this season in place of injured starter C.J. Brown, suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter of a 20-18 loss to NC State on Saturday and coach Randy Edsall said "it doesn't look good."

“Perry has a knee injury," Edsall said, according to the team's postgame report. "We will wait to see what the MRI tells about it, but it doesn’t look good. We will take a look at the film and look at how we will move forward. I think we have two guys who will help us move forward and it’s a credit to how they have prepared and to our offensive coaches for having those kids ready.”

Devin Burns helped lead Maryland on three scoring drives and finished with 50 rushing yards, 47 passing yards and a rushing touchdown. Freshman quarterback Caleb Rowe was thrown in the game with about 30 seconds remaining. Rowe completed his first pass attempt, a 17-yarder to Kevin Dorsey, and he had an 11-yard run and another 33-yard completion that set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by Brad Craddock that would have been the game winner.

“I was not surprised, coach always preaches to be prepared for whenever your number is called," Rowe said. "I work hard in practice and today I was ready to play. They were telling me through my headset to get ready to play.”

Edsall said he was pleased with his backup quarterbacks.

"I thought that [quarterback] Devin Burns came in and played well as a backup," Edsall said. "Caleb [Rowe] also came in and executed the two-minute drill with perfection. That is something that we have been working on and planned on bringing in Devin if something happened to Perry [Hills] and use Caleb in the two-minute offense. We got the ball down there, but unfortunately Brad [Craddock] didn’t make it and we came up two points short."

NC State escapes Maryland with win

October, 20, 2012
NC State won, but it seemed like the story was more along the lines of ...

NC State barely beat Maryland and its backup backup quarterback. And his backup.

In yet another totally bizarre ACC game, NC State beat Maryland 20-18, thanks in large part to Maryland's missed 33-yard field-goal attempt, which clanked off the upright as time expired. There are times when it's hard not to feel bad for a kicker. Penn State at Virginia this season comes to mind. Maryland's Brad Craddock can be added to that list.

This was a gritty effort by the Terps, one they could be proud of considering starting quarterback Perry Hills was injured and Maryland had to use every quarterback it has on the roster, including burning Caleb Rowe's redshirt with about 30 seconds left in the game.

NC State escaped, though, and coach Tom O'Brien snapped his 13-game road losing streak against Atlantic Division opponents. It also avoided a letdown loss after a huge win of Florida State two weeks ago. O'Brien has conceded that his team handles adversity better than it handles success, and this is exactly what he was talking about.

We'll see what Florida State does tonight, but with Maryland's first ACC loss, there could be four teams in the division with one loss at the end of the night.

Terps hold on against UVa

October, 13, 2012
Maryland is 2-0 in the Atlantic Division.

Repeat: Maryland is 2-0 in the Atlantic Division -- ahead of Florida State and Clemson in the ACC standings.

Only in the ACC.

One year after an abysmal 2-10 finish in Randy Edsall's first season, Maryland is leading the division standings after Saturday's 27-20 win over Virginia. And the Terps have done it with a true freshman at quarterback in Perry Hills and the worst rushing offense in the ACC. Good thing for that D.

Maryland's defense did it again, holding Virginia to three straight incompletions on its final possession to seal the win. Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco came off the bench to relieve Phillip Sims, and he looked capable of orchestrating the comeback, but an errant pass to a wide-open Khalek Shepherd is going to haunt the Hoos.

With four wins, Maryland looks much more capable of playing in a bowl game this year -- something that seemed like a far-fetched goal this summer when starting quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury. Virginia, meanwhile, has now lost five straight games and is almost out of chances to reach the postseason.

Maryland won with minus-2 rushing yards. It should savor its place in the standings while it can.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 24, 2012
Here's a look back at Week 4 in the ACC:

The good: Florida State remained in national championship contention after its come-from-behind 49-37 victory over No. 10 Clemson. The Seminoles went on a tear in the second half, erasing a 14-point deficit with 35 points -- including 28 straight. The last time FSU won after trailing by 14 or more points was at North Carolina on Oct. 22, 2009. In that game, the Seminoles trailed 24-6 before winning 30-27. In the win over Clemson, EJ Manuel got his Heisman campaign going and led Florida State to 667 yards of total offense -- its highest total since racking up 771 yards against Clemson in 2000. For those inquiring minds, West Virginia had only 595 total yards in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.

The bad: Clemson was not the only team that blew a double-digit second-half lead on Saturday. Georgia Tech lost a 17-point lead to Miami, blowing its biggest lead in a loss since the 2007 Toyota Gator Bowl, when Tech led 35-17 and lost to West Virginia. Georgia Tech has now lost two overtime games on the young season. The last time Tech played two overtime games in a season was 2001, when the Jackets lost to Clemson and Maryland. But if you want to know how bad it was on defense for Georgia Tech, let's move on to the next category.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
Robert Mayer/US PresswireStephen Morris' sizzling finish to this season is part of the reason why Miami coach Al Golden says he's so optimistic for 2013.
The ugly: Miami was the first team this season to have an offensive play longer than 46 yards against the Yellow Jackets, and the first team to score a rushing touchdown on this defense. Georgia Tech allowed more than 20 points for the first time this season. The Yellow Jackets allowed more than 500 yards in total offense for just the fourth time in Paul Johnson's five seasons and for the first time since 2010. And Miami's 609 yards of total offense is the third-highest total Georgia Tech has allowed all time and the second-highest total in an ACC game. Miami's 30 first downs are the most allowed under Johnson.

The ugly II: Virginia had its second straight disappointing performance, and in back-to-back losses, the Hoos have six turnovers and 650 yards of total offense. That is fewer than Florida State had on Clemson, by the way. In the loss to TCU, Virginia just hurt itself with all the mistakes, not to mention going 3-of-16 on third-down conversions.

The surprise: Miami pulled the biggest surprise of the weekend, winning its fourth straight on the Yellow Jackets behind inspired performances from Stephen Morris and Mike James. I would be remiss if I did not mention Anthony Chickillo, who was terrific up front for Miami. Chickillo recorded career highs with seven solo tackles and three tackles for loss. More on Miami below.

The surprise II: Maryland lost 31-21 to No. 8 West Virginia, but the Terps continued to show signs that they may be all right this year. First area of note: The defense held West Virginia to 1 yard per carry. The Mountaineers had averaged 226 rushing yards per game but against the Terps had only 25 yards on 25 carries. Demetrius Hartsfield, Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis got after Geno Smith, as the Terps totaled nine tackles for loss and two sacks on the day. Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Perry Hills had the best game of his career, going 20-of-29 for 305 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs. His lone interception came on a fourth-down desperation heave late in the fourth quarter. Fellow true freshman Stefon Diggs had his second straight game with 200-plus all-purpose yards. He had a team-high 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns on three receptions. Diggs also had 25 punt return yards and 63 kickoff return yards.

The stat: Miami is 4-0 in road overtime games since becoming a part of the ACC in 2004. In Miami, though, the Canes are just 1-4 for an overall 5-4 overtime record.

The stat II: Morris had a career-high 436 yards passing against Georgia Tech -- the second-highest total in the ACC this year. It was also the most yards by a Miami quarterback since Gino Torretta threw for a school-record 485 yards against San Diego State in 1991.

The stat III: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was unable to evade Florida State’s pass rush, completing 20 percent of his passes while throwing under duress. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boyd completed 1 of 6 passes for minus-5 yards and an interception while facing pressure in the second half.

The record: North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 321 yards in a win over East Carolina, and set a school record for most passing yards in consecutive games. Renner threw for a career-high 363 yards a week ago at Louisville, giving him 684 yards passing in two straight games. The previous record was 683, shared by T.J. Yates (2007, against East Carolina and Virginia) and Darian Durant (2002, against Arizona State and NC State). Renner also set the total yardage mark in back-to-back games with a total of 713 yards. The previous record was 712 by Ronald Curry against Marshall and Georgia Tech in 2000.

The runners: As noted Sunday, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, NC State and Duke all had season highs in rushing on Saturday. The Deacs had Josh Harris and Deandre Martin go over 100 yards, while the Wolfpack relied on true freshman Shadrach Thornton, Duke got a season-high 88 yards from freshman Jela Duncan and Virginia Tech went for more than 200 yards rushing for the first time this season. Last year, the Hokies hit 200 yards six times, and won all six games.

The overmatched: The Citadel looked pretty strong headed into its game against NC State. But this team was no match for the Wolfpack, trailing 42-7 before losing 52-14. The Bulldogs had 12 first downs and 226 yards of total offense. The Citadel’s first third-down conversion came early in the third quarter. Dating back to the end of the Connecticut game, the Pack has kept opponents from converting on 16 straight third-down attempts.