NCF Nation: Sean Renfree

Let's face it: Not too many preseason Heisman lists in recent years featured Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. And while there are plenty of returning stars among this year's Heisman hopefuls, it's always safe to bet on at least one or two unfamiliar faces ending up in New York in December.

Who could rise out of nowhere this year? Let's take a look at some candidates in the ACC.

Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: There is an awful lot of hype for a guy who has yet to take a college football snap. Then again, Winston was the No. 1 quarterback recruit from the Class of 2012, eclipses 100 mph on the baseball diamond as a Seminoles reliever, throws footballs over fraternity houses and starred in FSU's spring game. The redshirt freshman steps into an ideal situation, surrounded by experienced guys on an offense that is coming off an Orange Bowl win. And, well, he absolutely owned FSU's media day Sunday.

Taquan Mizzell, Virginia RB: The Cavaliers struggled running the ball last season, finishing 96th nationally in rushing yards per game (128.5). They have also said goodbye to Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims. Enter "Smoke" -- or, as coach Mike London has called him since a victorious 1-on-1 hoops game, "Mist." ESPN's No. 9 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 notched 1,231 yards and 39 total touchdowns last season at Bayside (Va.) High, and he figures to make his presence felt early at Virginia.

Anthony Boone, Duke QB: Yes, Boone is a redshirt junior. But he was behind school record-setter Sean Renfree the past two seasons, as he watched Renfree take Duke to a bowl game last year while receiving spot duty here and there. He relived an injured Renfree and rushed for a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown in a win at Wake Forest, then started a week later in a rout of Virginia. For his career, Boone has completed 53.4 percent of his passes in 22 games for 839 yards with six touchdowns and three picks. He also adds another dimension on the ground, having rushed for 211 yards and six more scores. Boone now has the starting job to himself, and teammates have said there is little indication that they are playing with a first-year starter.

Duke QB Anthony Boone ready to lead

February, 25, 2013
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Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said he isn’t nervous about taking over the starting job this spring for former veteran Sean Renfree, who finished his career ranked third on the ACC’s career completions list.

Boone isn’t exactly a novice.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Anthony Boone, who played against Wake Forest on Sept. 29, 2012, has been preparing this offseason to lead the Blue Devils in 2013.
In his first career start, Boone threw four touchdown passes to help the Blue Devils clobber Virginia, 42-17, last October. The previous week, Boone replaced an injured Renfree late in the third quarter against Wake Forest and scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve played a good bit of football,” said Boone, who played in 11 games last year and completed 51.6 percent of his passes for 531 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. “I feel like the two-quarterback system prepared me for being able to take control of the whole game and lead the team in the right direction and try to win football games and try to win championships.”

Last year, Duke shocked the ACC by being in contention for the Coastal Division title in November, but even with Renfree at the helm, the Blue Devils faded down the stretch and lost their final four regular-season games. Still, the program was lauded for playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, and coach David Cutcliffe was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. Duke’s six wins last year were as many as Duke had had in the entire five years before Cutcliffe was hired. If Duke is going to build upon that success this fall, Boone must adjust quickly to the starting role. While he did make a splash in his first career start, it was also his only start.

Boone said there are some intangibles he’s been working on this offseason to become more of a leader.

“I have to be way more accountable than I was last year, and being vocal in the weight room and on the field, when we did conditioning and agility drills, being more vocal and leading by example,” he said. “I don’t have much room for error. I can’t slack off or be the guy called back for not doing a drill right.”

Boone said this spring he plans to “hop to the front of the line,” and break everything down before going into individual drills.

Duke’s passing game has been its forte under Cutcliffe. Renfree finished seventh on the ACC’s career passing yardage list with 9,465, and those within the program say Boone has a stronger arm and is more of a threat outside the pocket. Last year, Duke set a school single-season record for most games scoring 34 or more points with seven.

Much of the luster of those accomplishments faded with Duke, though, in November. Boone said he is determined not to let that happen again.

“I’ve been preaching to our team throughout winter workouts that our main goal is to finish,” he said. “We lost the last five games. Last year I felt like once we got that sixth win, it was like we weren’t pressing anymore. It was like a relaxed feeling, which we don’t want this year. We want to keep pressing. We want to win eight or nine games this year and put ourselves in position for a nice high bowl game in Florida maybe or in Atlanta, but we’re definitely looking for more than six wins, that’s for sure.”

And the Blue Devils will be looking to Boone to help get them.
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Moving Day: Pittsburgh

February, 13, 2013
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Syracuse has officially made the move into the ACC football blog. Now it's Pitt's turn. The Panthers will become full members of the ACC on July 1, joining the Coastal Division with former Big East partners Miami and Virginia Tech. As far as we're concerned, here in the blogosphere, the move has been made.

Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich are here to welcome Pittsburgh into the ACC blog. C'mon in, there's plenty of room.

Heather Dinich: Andrea, one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season was Pitt's 35-17 win against Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. It wasn't just that Virginia Tech lost, it was how Pitt won -- convincingly, by manhandling the Hokies up front on both sides of the ball. Few, if any, saw that coming, as Virginia Tech was outworked and outmuscled by a team that had lost its first two games of the season, including to Youngstown State. How concerned should the rest of the Coastal Division be about the 2013 Panthers?

[+] EnlargePitt's Paul Chryst
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPittsburgh needs head coach Paul Chryst to stabilize a staff that has endured turnover in recent seasons.
Andrea Adelson: Heather, that was a great shock to us all, because up to that point, Pitt had not proven to be very good up front. In fact, the Panthers struggled for much of the season to gain consistency on their offensive and defensive lines. That win was one of their most complete of the season, topped only by their 27-6 win against No. 18 Rutgers later in the year. I am on the record as saying I believe Pitt will have an opportunity to contend for the Coastal Division. First, quarterback play should be improved dramatically, with either former Freshman All-American Tom Savage or four-star recruit Chad Voytik at the helm. Second, the Panthers have a solid running back in Rushel Shell and an unheralded receiver in Devin Street. And third, the Panthers return nine starters on defense, including All-Big East tackle Aaron Donald. I also think this team will be better in Year 2 under Paul Chryst. It's actually the first time since 2009 and '10 that the Panthers have had the same head coach in back-to-back seasons.

Having said that, there are a few concerns. First and foremost is playing consistently week in and week out. Those who follow me on the Big East blog know I referred to this team as "Good Pitt/Bad Pitt" all season because of the Jekyll and Hyde performances. Pitt followed a lose two, win two pattern all season. Chryst needs to find a way to get his team to play at the same level every single week. Second, the offensive line has to be better, because it has been pretty bad the past several years. Pitt won't be able to play the way Chryst wants to play on offense if the line doesn't improve. And third, Pitt is searching for yet another defensive coordinator since Dave Huxtable has gone to NC State. So that's my take. What will Pitt find in the Coastal this year?

HD: A much-improved Virginia Tech team. A Miami team ready to play for the league title (if it's eligible, of course). An eligible North Carolina team ready to contend for the Coastal Division title in the second season under Larry Fedora. A Georgia Tech team that returns the bulk of its playmakers and should get upgrades at quarterback (Vad Lee) and defensive coordinator (Ted Roof). Duke will have something to prove, as it has had some significant staff changes, including the departure of senior quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting senior receiver Conner Vernon. Virginia had a staff overhaul, but coach Mike London should be feeling some heat to get back to a bowl.

SportsNation

How do you think Pitt will fare in its first season in the Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,360)

Overall, the Coastal Division should be much, much better than it was last year. Heck, it can't get much worse, as the Hokies had their worst season in 20 years, two teams were ineligible, and Georgia Tech needed a waiver just to play in a bowl game. The Coastal Division is more balanced than the Atlantic Division, and Pitt will fit right in, adding to that parity. I'm looking forward to seeing Pitt-Miami and Pitt-Virginia Tech on a more regular basis. Miami has yet to play for the ACC title since joining the league, while Virginia Tech has owned it. Make no mistake -- last season was an anomaly in Blacksburg. What will it take for Pitt to follow the Hokies' path in the ACC?

AA: Great question, Heather. No. 1 on the list has to be coaching stability. The Pitt program has been set back because of the missteps over the past three years with head coaches. Most everybody believes Chryst is a solid football coach, but he is going to need time to get this program where he wants it. And he has exceptional resources to get the job done, with state-of-the-art facilities and extremely fertile recruiting ground in the Pennsylvania area. Pitt does not have to go far to find some of the most talented players in the nation. They finished just outside the top 40 on signing day last week. They can sell their ties to the Steelers, playing in an NFL stadium, and their incredible history, filled with national championships and Hall of Famers. Now, you could come back and say, "Well, Miami has all that, and more, and the Canes have failed to dominate the ACC as predicted." Very true. But you also make my point for me. Miami's weakness has been at the head-coaching position, as well, with Larry Coker and Randy Shannon unable to continue the success Miami had in the Big East. Al Golden now has the Canes in position to be the favorites in the Coastal.

Virginia Tech? Well, Virginia Tech has had Frank Beamer, the picture of coaching stability. After Wisconsin lost coach Bret Bielema, many wondered whether athletic director Barry Alvarez would approach Chryst, a long-time Wisconsin assistant and Wisconsin graduate. But Chryst let it be known he did not have any intention of leaving Pitt after a year on the job. He is committed to the Panthers. Now the administration has to show its commitment by giving him time to build. If he's as good as many think he can be, Pitt will be fine.
The ACC’s crop of 2013 quarterbacks will be an interesting blend of old and new. Veterans Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd both decided to return for their senior seasons instead of leaving early for the NFL draft, but several big names -- like EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon -- will be missing. Here’s a quick rundown of the position heading into the 2013 season:

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.

Five bold predictions for 2013

January, 15, 2013
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I have all the answers, but you knew that already. It’s why you’re here.

Here they are -- your five bold predictions for 2013.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd and Clemson ended 2012 with a win over SEC foe LSU. Can the Tigers open 2013 by beating another SEC power?
1. Clemson will win the ACC title; Miami will win the Coastal Division. The Tigers return the ACC’s best quarterback in Tajh Boyd, four starters on the offensive line, and the defense should be much better in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables. Miami might have the best offensive line in the ACC, and it will have one of the best quarterbacks in Stephen Morris. The Canes have to improve dramatically on defense, though, in order for this to come to fruition.

2. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. While he didn’t make it to New York this past season, he was certainly good enough. Boyd’s performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win against LSU should make him a legitimate contender heading into 2013. It’s not going to be easy because Clemson opens with Georgia, closes with South Carolina and plays FSU in between. But if the Tigers can go undefeated or finish with only one loss, Boyd should be in New York.

3. Jameis Winston will be Florida State’s new starting quarterback. The competition is on, and Clint Trickett enters the spring as the leading candidate to replace starter EJ Manuel. Trickett will be pushed, though, by Jacob Coker and Winston. Winston, who was regarded by many as the nation’s top quarterback prospect in 2012, also was a standout baseball player. He gets the nod from ESPN.com as the Noles’ starter in 2013.

4. Virginia Tech will have the best defense in the ACC. Move over, Noles, it’s the Hokies’ time to shine again. Virginia Tech returns nine starters to a defense that improved significantly in the second half of the season. While the Noles have to replace three of their top defensive ends in Brandon Jenkins, Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, Virginia Tech returns James Gayle at end, and standout corner Antone Exum. Bud Foster’s group “is back.”

5. Wake Forest will go bowling, Duke will not. Tanner Price returns, Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon do not. That’s not to say that the Blue Devils don’t have enough pieces in place to continue the momentum from 2012, but they’ve got big shoes to fill. Meanwhile, Wake Forest returns standout receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he stays healthy.

ACC's best moments of 2012

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It was a rough year for the ACC, but in retrospect, there were too many highlights to narrow it down to 10. From Blair Holliday’s return, to the ACC’s impressive performances during bowl season, to individual performances and games, the conference had plenty of memorable moments in 2012.

The following is a list of 10 moments and memories that best captured the 2012 ACC season, according to ESPN.com. ACC fans are bound to have more, and we’d love to hear them. What did we miss? Feel free to drop us a note in the mailbag, and we’ll highlight the best nominations in a separate mailblog. Until then, here are your top 10 moments from 2012, starting with the best:

1. Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: It was the ACC’s biggest win of the season, and the highest-ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win against No. 8 LSU, and it was the highest-ranked SEC team an ACC team has beaten in the past nine years.

2. Duke becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 1994: Sean Renfree's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left lifted Duke past North Carolina 33-30 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree converted three third-and-longs during the game-winning, 87-yard drive.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Bob Donnan/US PresswireGiovani Bernard's 74-yard game-winning punt return to lift UNC past rival NCSU was a play to remember.
3. Giovani Bernard versus NC State: Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left, helping North Carolina stun rival NC State 43-35 to end a five-year losing streak in the series. That day, Bernard also ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and had eight catches for 95 yards.

4. Karlos Williams' tip and interception in the ACC title game: In what turned out to be the final game for FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, FSU's D came up big against Georgia Tech, and no play was bigger than Williams'. The game wasn't decided until Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining. It was FSU's first ACC title since 2005.

5. The ACC posting its first winning bowl record since 2005: With marquee wins over LSU and USC and a victory in the Discover Orange Bowl, the ACC finally came out on the right end of bowl season, and will enter 2013 will some much-needed positive momentum. The Noles took another step toward national relevance with a 31-10 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl -- their first BCS bowl win since they beat Virginia Tech in 2000.

6. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance versus Clemson: It was Manuel’s one true Heisman moment of the season, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 380 yards while rushing for another 102 to become the first Seminoles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game.

7. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounts for eight touchdowns: The ACC Player of the Year set school and ACC records when he scored five passing and three rushing touchdowns in a 62-48 win over NC State. The Tigers gained 754 yards and ran 102 plays, the most in school history. Boyd was responsible for every Clemson touchdown. Boyd was 30-for-44 for 426 yards and ran for 105 yards -- the combined 531 yards set another school record.

8. Johnson leads Canes to Coastal title: In the regular-season finale against Duke, Miami freshman Duke Johnson rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards.

9. NC State’s game-winning TD in its upset of No. 3-ranked FSU. This isn’t a “best moment” for FSU fans, but it was by far one of the most memorable plays in the ACC and a highlight for the Wolfpack. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Oct. 6.

10. Duke receiver Conner Vernon rewrites the record books: In a 42-17 win against Virginia, Vernon surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. In the 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech, Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards.

TOP 3 OFF-FIELD MOMENTS

[+] EnlargeBlair Holliday
Courtesy of Duke Sports InformationBlair Holliday (No. 8) walks with his Duke teammates in his return to the field following a terrible jet ski accident that sidelined the wide receiver.
So as not to trivialize these moments by tossing them in with touchdowns, here are three more memories you won't want to forget:

1. Blair Holliday joins his Duke captains for the coin toss against NC Central: It was a miraculous recovery, and the most inspirational story in the conference. Holliday, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski accident on July 4 that left him in critical condition, led the team on the Devil Walk in what was an emotional comeback for the entire team.

2. Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez leads the Tigers on Military Appreciation Day: The Army veteran led the team down the hill carrying the American flag prior to the Virginia Tech game on Military Appreciation Day at Clemson on Oct. 20.

3. The ACC adds Louisville: The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted to add Louisville to replace Maryland, a move that looked better and better as the Cardinals' football season ended with a win against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. ACC officials conceded the move was an athletics-first, academics-second decision, but it was one the conference should eventually benefit from.

ACC bowl superlatives

January, 10, 2013
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Time to take a look at the best and worst of bowl season in the ACC.

Best game: Chik-fil-A Bowl, Clemson 25, LSU 24. How many bowl games delivered more drama than the Chick-fil-A Bowl? None. Just when LSU fans thought they would see their Tigers cruise to yet another win against the ACC, Tajh Boyd said, "Not so fast my friends!" Entering the fourth quarter down 24-13, Boyd engineered three fourth-quarter scoring drives. The most impressive? Clemson got the ball at its 20 with 1:39 remaining, down two. None of the 10 plays in the drive were more impressive than a fourth-and-16 completion to DeAndre Hopkins that went 26 yards. Chandler Catanzaro kicked the 37-yard, game-winning field goal to give the Tigers the win and 11 wins for just the fourth time in school history.

Best coaching performance: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. We could have gone a few different directions with this category. Dabo Swinney deserves major credit for beating LSU, but I am going with Johnson here because he needed a win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC more than Swinney needed a win against LSU. Johnson had the big oh-fer next to his name under the bowl record category. His team was sent to El Paso, again, to take on the former No. 1 team in the nation. Nobody really thought the Jackets would compete. Well, they did more than compete. They blasted USC, holding the Trojans to seven points in their best defensive game of the season. USC was not who we thought they were, but who cares. Johnson deserves credit for beating a team that had a talent advantage at just about every position.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson's Dabo Swinney was all smiles after his team pulled an improbable comeback against LSU.
Best celebration: Speaking of Swinney, I know you all saw him bear hug ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards after the victory. Best. Candid. Celebration. Ever.

Best performance in a loss: Sean Renfree, Duke. The Blue Devils gave it the ol' college try in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, jumping out to a quick 16-0 lead before losing it, then taking a 31-27 lead early in the fourth quarter before losing it for good. Renfree did his part to get the Blue Devils their first bowl win since 1960, setting Belk Bowl records for completions (37), attempts (49) and passing yards (358), and adding a 10-yard touchdown pass to Conner Vernon. He did have two interceptions, but Duke would not have been in position to win without the way Renfree played.

Best defensive performance: Florida State. There were four excellent defensive performances during bowl season, but I am giving the nod to Florida State for a variety of reasons. First, the Seminoles were playing a team with a pretty prolific quarterback. Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech most certainly did not. And the story all week leading into the game was how Florida State would stop dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch. Well those questions were answered, as Lynch had his worst game of the season with 176 yards passing, 44 yards rushing and one total touchdown. Northern Illinois managed 83 yards rushing, the first time all season it was held below 100 yards on the ground.

Best quote: “First off, I was just proud to be a part of this organization, honestly. The good and the bad, I understand that. That's what you're going to get as a quarterback, and Coach Fisher and I have had plenty of conversations. It's a part of the job. You're going to take the blame and you're going to get the credit, even though sometimes it's not deserved when you win. Good or bad, I'm just happy for my team. We won a BCS game. It doesn't get any better than that. We won 12 games, we won all my bowl games I've had an opportunity to play in my career. The biggest thing, we wanted to leave a legacy. A lot of the guys that came in the ‘08 and ‘09 class, we wanted to leave a legacy here at Florida State and … change the culture of what we do here. It wasn't an overnight process, but you're reaping the benefits right now, and that's why we're here, and that's why we won this game.” -- FSU quarterback EJ Manuel

Best performance: Clemson's Hopkins: He set a Chick-fil-A Bowl record with 190 receiving yards. The bowl was first played in 1968. Hopkins also caught a touchdown pass in 10 straight games, breaking the ACC record. Virginia’s Herman Moore caught a touchdown pass in nine straight games in 1990. Hopkins had touchdown catches in 12 of Clemson’s 13 games this season. No other ACC player has caught a touchdown pass in more than 10 games in the same season.

Best stat: 4-2, the ACC’s first winning bowl record since 2005.

Worst bowl game: The Russell Athletic Bowl: Zzzz. Even if you love defense like Bud Foster, this game was painful to watch. A Russell Athletic Bowl record for total punts was set with 21. It was the lowest-scoring game in the bowl’s history. The Hokies had 3 yards rushing. And won.

Worst offense: Virginia Tech. Out of 70 bowl teams, the Hokies tied Rutgers for the worst offensive output during bowl season. Each team managed a paltry 196 yards of total offense. No other team finished with under 200.

Worst stat: Five turnovers by NC State in the 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl.

Worst stat II: Two turnovers by Duke in the red zone, including a fumble at the Cincy 5 with 1:20 left to play.
Brace yourselves.

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.

Duke QB Sean Renfree has surgery

December, 28, 2012
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Duke quarterback Sean Renfree had surgery Friday to repair a torn right pectoral muscle.

He was hurt late in the fourth quarter of Duke's loss Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl in the final game of his Blue Devils career. He is expected to make a full recovery, the school said in a statement.

"As always, Sean is in great spirits," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said in a statement. "While this is an unfortunate setback, those who know Sean have no doubt that he will turn this misfortune into something positive. He is a very special young man; one who has done so much for our football program here at Duke. I just can’t say enough about his character, leadership and selflessness, and those attributes don’t begin to describe Sean’s ability to play the game of football. He is one of the best to play not only at Duke, but in the Atlantic Coast Conference."

Renfree finished the season 297-of-441 for 3,113 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and the recipient of both the ACC’s Jim Tatum Award and the Pop Warner National College Football Award. In addition, he was named to the AFCA’s Good Works Team, and is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.

Instant Analysis: Cincinnati 48, Duke 34

December, 27, 2012
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Cincinnati dug out of an early 16-0 hole Thursday night and defeated Duke in a thrilling Belk Bowl, 48-34. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Brendon Kay hit Travis Kelce for the longest touchdown in Belk Bowl history, 83 yards, as the tight end went untouched for the deciding score with 44 seconds remaining. On Duke's ensuing possession, Maalik Bomar drilled Sean Renfree and Nick Temple came up with the pick, returning it 55 yards for the touchdown with 14 seconds left to make it 48-34.

Game ball goes to: Cincinnati had a number of offensive players who put up huge numbers and are more than worthy of this honor, but in the end you have to go with the man who orchestrated the attack. Kay completed 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards with four touchdowns, and he added 76 rushing yards on 10 carries.

Stat of the game: Pretty simple: Duke turned the ball over four times, including twice in the red zone. Cincinnati never turned it over, giving the Bearcats just enough in a game it ended up being outgained by a slim 560-554 margin.

Unsung hero of the game: With Duke facing a second-and-goal from the Cincinnati 5 with less than 2 minutes to play in a tied game, Brandon Mills forced a Josh Snead fumble, with John Williams recovering it. Kay hit Kelce for the game-winner four plays later. Greg Blair also deserves credit for forcing -- and recovering -- a Jela Duncan fumble in the second quarter right before Duncan broke the goal line. A touchdown there would have added to Duke's early 16-3 lead.

What Cincinnati learned: These Bearcats deserve plenty of credit. Playing under interim coach Steve Stripling, following the departure of Butch Jones to Tennessee, Cincinnati fell behind 16-0 early to a team playing close to home. The Bearcats could have easily folded. Instead, they recovered to take the lead before halftime, forced timely turnovers and walked away with their 10th win of the season, their fifth 10-win campaign in the past six years, marking an unprecedented stretch in program history.

What team Duke learned: The Blue Devils made it to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years, but they could not snap their 52-year streak without a bowl win, despite starting off hot and having a number of opportunities to put Cincinnati away. The loss means the ACC cannot finish with a winning record this season against the Big East, which leads the season series 5-4 with one game remaining between the conferences. (Virginia Tech-Rutgers in Friday's Russell Athletic Bowl.)

Belk Bowl keys

December, 27, 2012
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Here are three keys to watch for Duke against Cincinnati in today’s Belk Bowl (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Stop the run. It’s the priority, as Duke’s rushing defense is No. 102 in the country, allowing almost 200 rushing yards per game (199.83) -- and Cincinnati is averaging 199.75 on the ground. Bearcats running back George Winn leads the team and the Big East with 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. In each of Duke’s four losses to end the regular season, the Blue Devils allowed an average of 294.5 rushing yards, and Georgia Tech and Clemson both surpassing 300.

2. Throw the ball downfield. Quarterback Sean Renfree is going to have to stretch the field and utilize his top two targets, Jamison Crowder (70 catches) and Conner Vernon (75 catches). Duke will need to try to exploit some weaknesses in Cincinnati’s secondary. The Bearcats are No. 72 in the country in pass defense, allowing 243.5 yards per game.

3. Don’t get overwhelmed by the spotlight. This is a major milestone for Duke, as the program hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1994, and it hasn’t won a bowl game since 1961. A victory over Cincinnati would not only snap a 51-year drought, it would also be a huge confidence-booster and springboard for the program heading into the offseason. Young specialists must continue to be solid, the passing game must continue to flourish, and Duke can’t get rattled or awestruck by the moment.

Pregame: Belk Bowl

December, 27, 2012
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Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC)

WHO TO WATCH: Duke receiver Conner Vernon is the ACC's all-time leader in receiving yards following his 75-catch, 955-yard, seven-touchdown season. The Blue Devils have benefited from strong quarterback play from Sean Renfree, who has completed better than 66 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight picks. For Cincinnati, quarterback Brendon Kay's play is worth keeping an eye on, as the fifth-year senior was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA but will be walking into an open race next year under new head coach Tommy Tuberville. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux and started the Bearcats' final four games, finishing the season with 966 passing yards, 230 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns.

WHAT TO WATCH: How does Cincinnati respond after the departure of head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee? Tuberville was hired immediately after from Texas Tech, but assistant Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach for this game. Stripling was Central Michigan's interim coach for its GMAC Bowl win in 2009 … again replacing Jones as head coach. The Bearcats are going for their fifth 10-win season in the past six years, an unprecedented stretch for this program.

WHY TO WATCH: Duke is playing in its first bowl game since the 1994 season and has not won a bowl game in 52 years, when it beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl after the 1960 season. Since that last win, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the Blue Devils have won 94 games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Duke is also looking to avoid its 18th straight losing season. This is also the first of two ACC/Big East bowl matchups, after the conferences split their eight regular-season meetings.

PREDICTION: Cincinnati 35, Duke 20. Despite the unpredictability factor with the Bearcats, they simply have too many threats that play right into what has doomed the Blue Devils so often during their four-game slide to end the regular season.

Sean Renfree wins Pop Warner award

November, 20, 2012
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Duke quarterback Sean Renfree has won the Pop Warner National College Football Award, an accolade presented by Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., which honors a Pop Warner alumnus who has made a difference on the field, in the classroom and in his community.

Renfree was chosen from a group of four finalists that included Miami running back Mike James, Connecticut wide receiver Nick Williams and Michigan offensive lineman Patrick Omameh.

"I feel very honored to receive this award," Renfree said in a teleconference this afternoon. "I think it's a very prestigious award, and it recognizes not just good football players, but football players who place an emphasis on academics as well. It's a very cool award to receive, especially considering my history with Pop Warner. That was where my career with football started, and also my competitive side of sports in general."

Renfree, a three-year starter and two-year team captain, has led Duke to a 6-5 record this season and bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994. He has also received recognition by being named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, a member of the AFCA Good Works Team, and a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award -- all which factor in off-field accomplishments.

Renfree is pursuing a graduate degree in humanities and has a 3.81 grade point average in his graduate program. He earned his undergraduate degree in public policy and is a four-time member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll and a two-time selection to the Academic All-ACC Football Team.

Renfree is also active in the Durham community, volunteering his time with numerous community service projects, including the Duke Children's Hospital, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Read with the Blue Devils, Durham Rescue Mission, the MLK "Million Meals" Event and Active Teens.
This is it Duke. Your time has arrived, gift wrapped with a tidy little blue and white bow.

Take it.

Run with it.

Do not look back at the carnage that is the Coastal Division. You have an opportunity to rise above the muck, because well, events have conspired to make this your year. Virginia Tech is down. Georgia Tech is down. North Carolina is ineligible. Miami is not really Miami, not anymore.

[+] EnlargeSean Renfree
Liz Condo/US PresswireSean Renfree says Duke needs to "keep focused" if it wants a shot at beating Georgia Tech.
That leaves you, flip flopped from bottom to top. The view is spectacular, right? Now, you know as well as I do, another year like this may never happen again. Sure, you are bowl eligible but you want so much more, right? A spot in the ACC championship game is waiting for you! Win two more games, and you are in. And that, my friends, would make for one of the most shocking surprises in ACC history.

But first things first. The biggest game this program has played since 1994. Saturday. At Georgia Tech.

No pressure.

"We have to focus on only the things we can control," quarterback Sean Renfree said in a phone interview. "That’s playing as good as we possibly can play, playing as hard as we can play, and staying as focused as we can. If we don’t win this week, we might be out of it, so this week is all that matters. Good teams just focus on one game at a time."

That is an old sporting cliche, but one that universally holds true. This one game could very well make or break championship game chances. But here is the thing, Duke. You have to show us something more than wins over FIU, Memphis and Virginia.

Of the six teams you have beaten, only one has a winning record -- North Carolina. And Renfree tuned in live to see what this weekend's opponent just did to those Tar Heels, laying 68 points on them in the highest-scoring game ever in ACC play.

But here is the point. In four road games this year, you are 1-3 and the average score is 42-19. That includes a 34-27 win over Wake Forest, and losses to Top 25 teams Stanford and Florida State. Yes, those road games were incredibly difficult, but it also includes a 41-20 loss to Virginia Tech, a game in which you built a 20-0 first-quarter lead before never scoring again. I do not need to remind anyone that Virginia Tech is fighting for bowl eligibility.

Now this game Saturday is on the road in Atlanta. Time to prove you have the chops to win on the road with the season on the line.

"It takes all four quarters, and things can go against you early, or they can go really well for you early like they did at Virginia Tech, or things can turn on you," Renfree said. "You have to keep focused. Georgia Tech can score quickly, and we have to find a way to score more points."

The Jackets are hot, having won three of their last four. Vad Lee has been terrific in his last two games. Georgia Tech has won eight straight in the series, and 16 of the last 17. But this is your moment, and this is your chance, Duke.

History may even be on your side.

The last time Duke beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta?

Why, that would be 1994.

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