NCF Nation: Terrel Hunt

Syracuse Orange season preview

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Syracuse Orange:

Key returners: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Ashton Broyld, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, DT Eric Crume, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Brandon Reddish, S Durell Eskridge

Key losses: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Marquis Spruill, DT Jay Bromley, CB Ri'Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes

Most Important 2014 games: Sept. 27 vs. Notre Dame (in East Rutherford, New Jersey), Oct. 3 vs. Louisville, Nov. 8 vs. Duke, Nov. 22 at Pitt, Nov. 29 at Boston College

Projected win percentage (from ESPN Stats & Information): 51 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5.5

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt passed for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He added another 500 yards rushing with seven touchdowns on the ground.
Instant impact newcomer: John Miller best fits this bill, as he is a junior college transfer who saw just limited time last season, his first with the Orange. Now the former Los Angeles Harbor College player looks to build off a spring that saw him emerge as one of the team's most improved players and as a leader on offense. Miller is the front-runner to start at center for Syracuse and should allow others around him to stay in their natural positions.

High point from 2013: Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left in the regular-season finale to top rival Boston College 34-31 and earn win No. 6. This was a major boost for Syracuse, which ended up beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6 in Year 1 of both the Scott Shafer and the ACC eras. It might have been a watershed moment for Hunt, too, as he enters 2014 looking to take the next step as a leader of this offense.

Low point from 2013: Losing big to heavyweights Florida State and Clemson is one thing. But a 56-0 loss at Georgia Tech, a team that went just 7-6 and enters 2014 with major questions, is pretty much inexcusable. It stands out even more considering the Orange entered the game coming off a win at NC State and won two straight contests right after the Atlanta trip. (It also stands out after Shafer made his thoughts known about Atlanta winters, and after the Twitterverse replied as the Twitterverse is wont to do.)

Best-case scenario for 2014: Hunt evolves as a passer and as a runner, orchestrating an offense that has made it known it would like to push the tempo in 2014. Unlike last year, the Orange enter the season knowing who their No. 1 quarterback is, and that proves beneficial as they race out to an early 3-0 start. The front seven steps up and Syracuse is able to steal a win during a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, emerging on the other end ready to tackle a final month that concludes with road contests at former Big East foes Pitt and BC. Syracuse improves in Shafer's second season, hitting his goal of at least eight wins, and the future looks bright for a program looking to emerge as a legitimate No. 3 team in a top-heavy Atlantic division behind FSU and Clemson.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Hunt struggles to command the offense with more responsibility, the defense can't seem to make up for the loss of Bromley up front and the Orange get eaten alive by a tough schedule. A trip to Wake Forest provides a reprieve during a five-game stretch that features the aforementioned teams above plus Clemson on the other end. No matter, though, as a physically beaten team staggers into the final month with only NC State as a winnable game. Syracuse wins four games, its worst season since Doug Marrone's inaugural 2009 campaign.

They said it: "I was happy with the way we finished the season. I thought both Terrel [Hunt] and the wide receivers did a nice job finishing up with the victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, but we need to take it to the next level to get to the next level. We're always going to really work hard to run the football. I believe in running the football, I believe in stopping the run. I think that's where it starts with our philosophy. But in this day and age, you've got to be able to open it up, and we put the onus on our passing game, our wide receivers, to take their game up." -- Shafer, on the passing game becoming more explosive
Duke has become one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions for several reasons.

Here is one of the biggest: Duke is the only team in the ACC to return its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago. The Blue Devils return their top two leading tacklers, too.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDuke returns 72 percent of its offense, including leading receiver Jamison Crowder.
In all, Duke returns 72 percent of its offense. Only Virginia returns more in the ACC, though the Hoos are changing quarterbacks and only produced two wins with virtually the same players a season ago. Plus, their offense took a hit in the offseason when leading receiver Jake McGee decided to transfer.

What should give Duke an edge is the veteran experience and leadership it will have with returning quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and rusher Josh Snead -- all seniors. Crowder is the headliner of the group, after catching an ACC-record 108 passes a year ago for 1,360 yards. He needs just 1,153 yards to set the school and ACC career receiving yards record.

Snead will once again split carries in the backfield -- the way Duke has done in recent history -- though some depth does have to be developed at the position. Boone will share some of the load at quarterback as well, but there will be much more placed on his shoulders with the departure of Brandon Connette.

That is where the Blue Devils lose the largest percentage of their offense -- 25 percent out of the 28 percent that is gone. Losing Connette means losing 14 of the team's 28 rushing touchdowns from a year ago, along with 1,212 passing yards and perhaps the most reliable backup quarterback in America. Thomas Sirk is expected to contribute, but it is too early to say what exactly his role will be once the season begins.

Still, Duke is the only team in the league with its offensive nucleus intact, an offense that -- by the way -- ranked No. 3 in the ACC. Florida State nearly does with Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene back. Though the Seminoles lose leading rusher Devonta Freeman, they believe Karlos Williams will be able to step right in and fill those shoes. Several other teams return two among their top passers, rushers or receivers: Pitt (RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd), Syracuse (QB Terrel Hunt, WR Ashton Broyld), Virginia Tech (RB Trey Edmunds, WR Willie Byrn) and Louisville (RB Dominique Brown, WR DeVante Parker).

Of these teams, only Syracuse returns 70 percent or more of its offense. Still not quite as much as Duke.


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn't want to do it.

When he met with former quarterback Chad Kelly on the Monday following Clemson's spring game, Swinney said his original plan was to suspend Kelly -- not dismiss him from the team entirely -- but the meeting "just didn’t go well."

"There’s just certain things you can’t tolerate, and that’s just the bottom line," Swinney said. "It wasn’t a good meeting. It was a simple decision that was made. He moved on and we moved on."

So did more than half the ACC this spring, to a new era of quarterbacks.

Cole Stoudt’s tenure began swiftly at Clemson, ending what was one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the ACC and capping a spring that was filled with quarterback news throughout the conference.

[+] EnlargeKevin Olsen
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Olsen became Miami's first-string quarterback when Ryan Williams tore his ACL.
At Miami, quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Kevin Olsen the undisputed starter heading into summer camp.

At Duke, Brandon Connette announced his decision to transfer to the West Coast, leaving Anthony Boone in an unfamiliar role of being the lone leader.

Boston College named Florida transfer Tyler Murphy its starter, Syracuse reaffirmed Terrel Hunt as its starter, Justin Thomas is the main man at Georgia Tech, Will Gardner took the lead at Louisville and Chad Voytik became the obvious choice at Pitt.

What began as a position up for grabs in the ACC is largely no longer a mystery, as many schools determined their starting quarterback this spring, or at least had separation occur -- if not by performance, then by default. While most of the quarterbacks throughout the league are still unproven (six schools don’t have any starting experience returning to the position, and four schools brought in transfers to help), many enter summer camp at least sure of where they stand on the depth chart.

"I had my meeting with the coaches before all that happened, and I felt comfortable with where I was," said Stoudt, who will make his first career start in the season opener at Georgia. "They said I was going to be the guy and everything. I know there were some things that happened, but I'm happy with the situation, and I'm happy I'm the guy going into fall camp, so it's exciting."

Nine of the 14 schools in the ACC will introduce a first-year starting quarterback this fall. Of the 11 teams that entered spring with quarterback competitions, eight found answers -- or at least had an obvious front-runner emerge.

At Miami, Williams had distanced himself from Olsen through his decision-making and accuracy, but the torn ACL meant an instant promotion for Olsen. Still, coach Al Golden said his confidence in the position remains high.

"I think we're not going to change what we do," Golden said. "We need to do a really good job of establishing the running game, keeping it simple, doing what we do best. Getting into more third-and-manageables. We were in way too many third-and-longs last year to possess the ball and convert. Clearly the two young men we have here on campus right now can do it. The two coming in will also have an opportunity to compete."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is still looking for a starting quarterback to emerge.
The only three schools that didn’t come close to naming a starter this spring were Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. It's not a stretch to say that the Hokies' hopes of returning to the ACC title game hinge on having a dependable quarterback emerge, and as one of the premier programs in the Coastal Division, it will continue to be one of the most-watched storylines of the summer. Those within the program have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin. The staff has made it perfectly clear they won’t name a starter until those two are added to the competition this summer.

"The big question really is the quarterback," coach Frank Beamer said. "I think Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford all have had their moments. Some of it's good; some of it's not as good as you like. I think Michael Brewer coming in, Chris Durkin coming in, will enter into the competition there. We'll see how that ends up. But that's certainly the critical question for our football team right now."

The critical question for the rest of the conference becomes how these new starters will perform when it counts. Now that most of them have earned their starting jobs, there's pressure to keep them.

"I've said that if we were to play tomorrow, [Will Gardner] would run out there as our starter," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "… There will certainly be competition for it in the fall. He’ll have a chance to go out each day and prove that he's either the better quarterback, or someone passes him by."

More often than not, the ACC's new quarterbacks were able to prove it this spring.

Best and worst of ACC bowl season

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
10:00
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The ACC had a record 11 teams make bowl games. Did you have a hard time keeping them all straight? We got you covered, with a look back at the best and worst of bowl season in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was one of two big special teams plays for Florida State in the national title game.
Best game: Florida State 34, Auburn 31. The biggest, most important game of the season delivered the best game of the season as the Seminoles won their third national championship with a frantic second-half rally. The final 4:31 provided one highlight after another: Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State its first lead; Auburn answered back with Tre Mason's 37-yard run; and then the capper, Heisman winner Jameis Winston delivering the game-winning score to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. Let the debate rage about whether this game tops USC-Texas as the best BCS national championship game.

Best game, II: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35. In the second-best win for the ACC, the Tigers also needed a second-half comeback to beat Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, but got the school’s first BCS win thanks to the talented tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd had 505 yards of total offense and threw the game-winning score to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining for the final margin.

Best wheels: Kermit Whitfield. The nation got the true definition of "track speed" when Whitfield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the national championship game. It only took 11 seconds in real time for Whitfield to go from end zone to end zone, his jaw-dropping speed on full display. This set off a debate on Twitter about who would win a race between Whitfield and former Florida State receiver Marvin Bracy, who left the team to concentrate on his track career. The two are cousins. No surprise, they each claim victory.

Best impersonation of Tony Dorsett: James Conner. Pitt struggled all season to get its run game going, so watching the Little Caesars Bowl unfold you could not help but wonder, 'Where was this all year!' Conner broke the school bowl rushing record held by Tony Dorsett, running for 229 yards -- tied for the highest total among all players during bowl season. He averaged a whopping 8.8 yards per carry, and also got some reps on defense, too.

Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins. Boyd may have had 505 total yards, but it was Watkins who was the best player on the field in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's overmatched defensive backs were helpless to stop him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.

Best play call: Florida State's fake punt. Jimbo Fisher was largely outcoached in the first half of the national championship game, but he made the call of his career late in the second quarter, with the Seminoles trailing 21-3. On fourth-and-4 at their own 40-yard line, Fisher had Karlos Williams take the ball on a reverse from the up man. Williams turned the corner and got the first down. The Seminoles ended up scoring a much-needed touchdown on the drive, one of the key turning points in their comeback win. Fisher explained the decision behind the call quite simply: he did it in an effort to spark his team and avoid a blowout.

Best performance in a loss: Duke. What a heartbreaking end to the season for the Blue Devils, who came oh so close to upsetting Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Duke led 38-17 at halftime, perhaps the most stunning result of bowl season to that point and had done a good job containing Manziel. But there was little the Blue Devils could do to stop some of the plays Manziel made late in the game. Anthony Boone did not help matters, either, throwing two costly fourth-quarter interceptions -- including one that was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesSammy Watkins shredded Ohio State for an Orange Bowl record 227 receiving yards.
Best comeback performance: Terrel Hunt. Syracuse did not have a great year from its quarterbacks, but give Hunt an A-plus for keeping his head up and finally catching on late in the season. His last-second touchdown pass to Josh Parris to beat Boston College in the regular-season finale got the Orange into the Texas Bowl. He pulled out more heroics against Minnesota in said bowl game. Hunt ran for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:14 remaining to give Syracuse the 21-17 win and finished with 262 yards of total offense, winning MVP honors (along with a 10-gallon hat!).

Best special teams: North Carolina. It is tough enough to have on return for a score in a game. How about two? The Tar Heels did that in their 39-17 domination of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Ryan Switzer had an 86-yard punt return for a score, giving him an NCAA record five on the season. T.J. Logan also returned a free kick following a safety 78 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff return for a touchdown in a bowl game in school history. Switzer was named game MVP for his efforts.

Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Worst stat: 0-11. Miami got embarrassed by Louisville, 36-9, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Maybe worse than that final score was the 0-fer the Hurricanes posted on third downs.

Worst stat, II: 32.3. The ACC did not have a particularly outstanding defensive showing throughout bowl season. Teams gave up an average of 32.3 points per game. Only two of 11 teams allowed less than 20 points (North Carolina, Syracuse), seven gave up 30 or more and three gave up 40 or more.

Worst bowl game: Russell Athletic Bowl. The Hyundai Sun Bowl had the most lopsided score of ACC bowl season, but the Russell Athletic Bowl is the choice here. This was one of the most anticipated non-BCS games on the schedule, but this was never really a game. Miami looked unmotivated despite waiting two years for a shot at a bowl game and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to throw for 447 yards and three touchdowns.
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It was a little too much like last season: Minnesota leading late in the Texas Bowl. Plenty of hope. Critical breakdowns. And an eventual loss. The only difference this year was the opponent -- Syracuse.

The Gophers led 17-14 with just more than two minutes remaining in the game, after having clawed back from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit. But a 70-yard punt return from Brisly Estime set the Orange up for a touchdown and a four-point lead with just more than a minute remaining.

Minnesota wasn’t able to respond, and like its previous 20 games under Jerry Kill when the Gophers trailed at halftime, Minnesota lost. Syracuse walked away with the win, 21-17.

It was over when: Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner’s Hail Mary fell incomplete out of bounds at the 1-yard line. It was just the second game this season that the redshirt freshman had attempted at least 20 passes, and his final two heaves toward the end zone both looked as though they might be good. But on the final play, Syracuse dropped most of its defense deep, ready for the prayer of a pass, and Minnesota just didn’t have enough luck left to pull off the win.

Game ball goes to: Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt. The sophomore put together one of his most impressive games this season, accounting for 262 yards (188 passing, 74 rushing) and two of the Orange’s three touchdowns. The Minnesota defense just couldn’t really find much of an answer to his dual-threat capabilities, and he looked like an even better version of the QB who led Syracuse impressively through November.

Stat of the game: 13 consecutive scoreless quarters or 195 minutes -- the streak of the Gophers being held out of the end zone. But against Syracuse early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota ended that drought, as Leidner first found Maxx Williams for a 20-yard TD and then connected with Drew Wolitarsky for a 55-yard score.

Back-and-forth affair: Syracuse's 7-3 halftime lead seemed solid. But when it took a two-score lead in the third quarter against a Minnesota offense that hadn't shown any signs of life, it seemed as though the game might as well be over. But the Gophers came back kicking only to eventually be kicked once more. It was a game worth watching until the end, because that's when most of the action really was worth watching.

What Syracuse learned: This offense could really develop in the next few seasons in the ACC. With two more years in this offense, Hunt could become quite the player. His arm and feet looked reliable, and with his athleticism, he seems like he isn’t close to his ceiling. On top of that, Syracuse’s top three receivers -- Estime, Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West -- will all return next year.

What Minnesota learned: The QB competition is (and should be) open at Minnesota. Philip Nelson has had the advantage with the more reliable arm, but Leidner stepped in and threw Minnesota’s first passing touchdowns in months. Both played against Syracuse, but the offense looked the best with Leidner, and that's what Kill chose to go with when the game was on the line.

Best moment of the game: Kill returning to the sideline for Minnesota. He came down during halftime and decided to stay for the second half. He hadn’t coached from the sideline since September and since he had taken a leave from coaching to focus on his health. But it was nice to see Kill enjoying himself on the sideline again.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Texas Bowl, click here.

Texas Bowl preview

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
10:00
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Syracuse might have taken care of business against Minnesota in the Rodeo Bowl, but the two will meet on the football field on Friday in the Texas Bowl at 6 p.m. ET (ESPN).

Here’s a quick preview:

Who to watch: Quarterbacks. Syracuse and Minnesota had two common opponents this season: Northwestern and Penn State. This game will be played largely in the trenches, but it could come down to which team’s quarterback makes fewer mistakes downfield. Syracuse opened the season with the Wildcats and Nittany Lions, but QB Drew Allen threw just one touchdown to six interceptions in those two games. After that, the Orange staff began playing sophomore Terrel Hunt. Hunt has since completed 146 of 240 passes for 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Minnesota’s Philip Nelson, on the other hand, threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in games against PSU and NU. So while running backs like Syracuse’s Jerome Smith (840 yards, 11 TDs) and Minnesota’s David Cobb (1,111 yards, 7 TDs) might be the ones providing highlight-reel plays, it could be Hunt and Nelson who make the biggest difference.

What to watch: These teams met last season and Minnesota walked away with a 17-10 victory. The 2012 game, however, was mainly based in the air -- the teams combined for 459 passing yards. But in 2013, expect this game to be played a bit more in the trenches. The Orange average 194 yards rushing per game, and 22 of its 35 touchdowns this season have come on the ground. But the Gophers run defense has taken major strides this season. It gives up 154 yards per game, but held teams such as Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin to below their season rushing averages. On the other side of the ball, Syracuse’s run defense ranks No. 26 in the country and has forced 23 turnovers this season, but the Gophers have scored 23 of their 33 touchdowns on the ground and Cobb averages 5.1 yards per carry. It should be interesting to see what the Gophers can do up front and whether their improved offensive line can create holes for Cobb against Syracuse.

Why to watch: Even with the Gophers on the brink of an unfortunate season and coach Jerry Kill dealing with health problems that forced him to take a leave from coaching and then took him from the sideline to the coaches’ box, Minnesota somehow managed to turn its season around. The Gophers won four of their last six games, but a bowl win would be the ending to the season that they’re really looking for. And Syracuse would love nothing more than to spoil that, coming off a regular season finale in which it clinched bowl eligibility. It should be a good old-fashioned hit-you-in-the-mouth kind of game.

Prediction: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 20
The ACC has a record 11 teams playing in bowl games this season, and that means plenty of showcase opportunities for the league’s stars. But dig into the matchups and five players have the most on the line as the ACC looks to build its résumé during bowl season.

Terrel Hunt, QB, Syracuse
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27 vs. Minnesota)

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/John BazemoreVirginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown 16 touchdown passes and been intercepted 13 times this season. Can he finish his career with a bowl win?
With a new quarterback and a new coach, it was clear this would be a year of transition for Syracuse, but the Orange weathered the storm of an 0-2 start to reach a bowl game for the third time in four years. The turning point came in Week 3 when Hunt took over for a struggling Drew Allen at quarterback. Hunt accounted for eight TDs against Wagner and Tulane, but the rigors of the ACC proved more difficult. In conference games, Hunt completed just 57 percent of his throws, with just three touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. But his last two games (a one-point loss to Pitt and a 34-31 win over BC) were his best (66 percent completion, 3 TDs, 1 INT), and the Orange hope that growth will continue into the bowl game against Minnesota. Hunt is a dangerous runner, but as Syracuse looks to finish strong and build momentum toward 2014, his progress as a passer offers ample reason for optimism.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. Arizona)

Williams will get another chance to leave a final impression. The senior left the Eagles' regular-season finale at Syracuse, a game they ended up losing, with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to be fine by the time his team takes the field in Shreveport, La. The early exit -- nine carries for 29 yards -- likely cost him whatever extra votes he could have picked up in the Heisman Trophy race, but now he'll have a chance to further improve his draft stock. Williams has been all over the place in the past few weeks -- from a media tour in Bristol, Conn., to awards shows in Orlando, Fla., and New York. And he might meet his match when facing the Wildcats. Their star running back, Ka'Deem Carey, is the only player in the nation who averages more carries per game (29.27 to 27.42).

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31 vs. No. 17 UCLA)

The Hokies need to score more than usual if they are to upset the Bruins, who rank 23rd nationally in points per game (36.5). The defense has been the backbone of Virginia Tech, ranking fourth in total defense and eighth in scoring D, but it will need help. Enter Thomas, the talented senior who has failed to meet many outside expectations the past two seasons. The victim of shoddy receiver play earlier this fall, Thomas delivered his best performance in what was arguably his team's most important ACC game, completing 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns last month at Miami. He will need better protection up front in his collegiate finale -- sacked 11 times in the last two games -- and will probably shoulder a bigger burden with his legs, as leading rusher Trey Edmunds suffered a broken right tibia in the regular-season finale.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Discover Orange Bowl (Jan. 3 vs. No. 7 Ohio State)

This is it for the Tigers' signal-caller, who has rewritten a large portion of the ACC record book but, as the narrative goes, has failed to deliver in the big games. Boyd's two worst showings this season came in Clemson's two losses: versus Florida State and at South Carolina. He is just 1-5 against those schools as a starter, despite owning a remarkable 127 total career touchdowns to his name. And he returns to the Orange Bowl, where he fared OK two years ago (282 total yards, 2 TDs, 3 TOs) but was completely upstaged by West Virginia's offensive explosion. Now he gets one more shot to deliver a strong performance against a big-time opponent in the Buckeyes, whom he passed on in favor of Clemson while coming out of high school.

Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
VIZIO BCS National Championship (Jan. 6 vs. No. 2 Auburn)

If Jameis Winston has been the face of Florida State’s team all season, Smith has been its heart. The senior linebacker is the Seminoles' emotional leader, the biggest talker on the practice field and on game day. While teammates laud his off-the-field exploits, Smith's role on the field against Auburn will be far more significant. The Tigers will want to run the ball early and often, and Smith will be at the forefront of FSU’s effort to slow them down. For two years, Smith platooned at middle linebacker because he was far more effective against the pass than the run, but he has blossomed this season, leading Florida State with 75 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss. With Timmy Jernigan creating havoc up front, Smith has snuffed out runners routinely, and Florida State’s first-team defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Of course, Auburn has more rushing touchdowns than any team in the country, so the challenge for Smith and the Seminoles defense will be far bigger in Pasadena than anything they’ve seen so far.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
11:00
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That does it for the ACC regular season, which has left us with Duke and Florida State to play for the league's crown Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. Before we get there, however, we will take one look back at the week that was in our weekend rewind.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsOnly Duke stands in the way of Kelvin Benjamin and FSU playing for the national title.
The good. There is a new No. 1 in town, as Florida State tops the latest BCS standings after taking care of business in Gainesville, Fla., before watching previously top-ranked Alabama fall at Auburn. While the politicking between the now-No. 3 Tigers and No. 2 Ohio State will wage over the next week (and likely beyond), the Seminoles are now left with a simple formula: Beat Duke on Saturday, and they will close their season in Pasadena, Calif., playing for all the marbles. (Oh, and Kelvin Benjamin had himself a pretty nice day for the Noles, too.)

The bad. It was a weekend of blown opportunities for the ACC against the SEC, which got the upper hand in three of four matchups. After FSU beat Florida -- as it should have -- Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 first-half lead and fell at home in double overtime to an Aaron Murray-less Georgia 41-34. Wake Forest let a four-point lead late get away at Vanderbilt, which kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to escape with the victory. And then, for the cherry on top, Clemson turned the ball over six times to drop its fifth straight to rival South Carolina.

The ugly. Virginia fell to Virginia Tech 16-6, a fitting margin of defeat for a team that has now dropped 10 straight to the rival Hokies in the Commonwealth Cup, and one that has now ended the season on a 10-game slide. NC State did not fare much better, as Maryland beat the Wolfpack 41-21, in the Terrapins' final ACC game, meaning NC State also finishes winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren, losing its last eight and nine of its final 10. Kudos to Florida State for carrying the ACC flag to the top overall ranking this year, but the bottom of the league was as ugly as ever in 2013.

Now what? These last few years are tough to put in perspective for Clemson. Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd have, in some ways, taken the Tigers to new heights, amassing great recruiting classes and breaking records. At 10-2, Clemson has its third straight season with double-digit wins; it had not posted consecutive 10-win seasons since 1989-90. At No. 13 in the BCS standings, a second Orange Bowl berth in three years remains a real possibility. Yet Swinney and Boyd are 0-5 against rival South Carolina, and just 2-3 against top ACC competitor Florida State -- including an 0-4 mark against those teams in the last two years while going 21-0 against everyone else. The Tigers deserve credit for taking a sledgehammer to the word "Clemsoning" and erasing it from everyone's vernacular in recent years, but knowing that it still came up short against its toughest foes during a historic run has to be a tough pill to swallow, especially with no sign of the Seminoles slowing down.

Happy Thanksgiving. Pitt might have had a Black Friday to forget, as it lost at home to Miami,41-31. But the Panthers can be forgiven if they were in an extra-festive mood Thanksgiving night. That's because Mississippi State topped Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, assuring the SEC of 10 bowl-eligible teams and, more importantly, eliminating the potential vacant spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl, where Pitt has closed its last three seasons in Birmingham, Ala. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt came up big to get Syracuse bowl eligible with a win over Boston College.
Bowl-bound. Syracuse extended its season by the slimmest of margins, as Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining to deliver a 34-31 win over Boston College for victory No. 6. Hunt played his best ACC game yet, completing 29 of 43 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. He also ran for 90 yards and another score. And now both newcomers, Syracuse and Pitt, are bowl-eligible in their first seasons in the ACC. Not too shabby.

Heisman hopes hurting. While it was a day of celebration for the Orange, it might have also been a blow to Boston College's hopes of getting its first Heisman Trophy winner since Doug Flutie. Andre Williams left the game with an injury in the third quarter, meaning his final impression on the voters was a line of nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Syracuse and Ohio State now remain the only teams in the nation not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Williams still has a solid chance of making it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but you have to think his chances of winning the trophy now are slim.

DeVon, again. DeVon Edwards can change a game in an instant, as evidenced by his consecutive pick-sixes -- and kickoff returns for a touchdown -- in Duke's win over NC State earlier this month. But the versatile 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman was not done for the month, as he made it a November to remember by returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score and then coming up with the game-sealing interception in the Blue Devils' 27-25 win at North Carolina to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. Coach David Cutcliffe was carried off the field after the win, Duke's record 10th of the season. It will now take aim at the Seminoles as it goes for its first ACC title since 1989.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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The 2013 regular season is officially in the books, and if you had Florida State and Duke playing for an ACC championship way back in August -- well, you’re probably lying. But both the Seminoles and the Blue Devils finished strong in Week 14, and they weren’t alone in wrapping up the regular season on a high note.

Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin: In the last five seasons, 44 teams haven’t mustered as many yards through the air against Florida’s defense as Benjamin racked up by himself Saturday. The FSU sophomore caught nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first Seminoles receiver to crack the 200-yard mark in 11 years. What’s more astounding is that Benjamin might’ve had an even bigger day. He dropped two passes that could’ve gone for big gains and QB Jameis Winston narrowly overthrew him on a third that appeared a sure touchdown.

Duke CB DeVon Edwards: The redshirt freshman has been astounding in 2013, leading Duke’s defense all year, but Saturday’s performance was a perfect finishing touch on a historic regular season. Edwards returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown (his fourth TD of the year) and picked off a pass from UNC quarterback Marquise Williams to secure the win -- the 10th of the season for the Blue Devils, who will now advance to the ACC championship game against Florida State. Edwards finished with eight tackles in the game.

Maryland QB C.J. Brown: In the final game Maryland will play as a member of the ACC, Brown provided a spectacular send-off. In sending NC State to a winless season in conference play, Brown was dominant, completing 13 of 25 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding another 138 yards on 15 carries with three more touchdowns on the ground. Saturday marked Brown’s fourth 100-yard rushing day this season and the third time he’s tallied at least four TDs in a game.

Miami WR Stacy Coley: The Hurricanes played on Friday, with lingering Coastal title hopes still on the line, and Coley put on a show. The freshman receiver hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions and added a 73-yard end-around for another score. For the game, Coley racked up 171 all-purpose yards as Miami edged Pitt for its ninth win of the season. Coley finished the regular season with 1,428 all-purpose yards, the third-most by any true freshman in the country.

Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt: With bowl eligibility on the line and Syracuse trailing by 4 points with six seconds to play, Hunt hit tight end Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass -- just his third TD pass in conference play this year. Hunt wasn’t perfect Saturday, but he turned in his best ACC game to date, completing 29 of 43 passes for 270 yards -- hooking up with nine different receivers -- with two TDs and an interception. He added another 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
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The final regular-season weekend is on deck. Time sure flies. So here's one last look at all that went down in the ACC this past weekend.

The good: The ACC seemingly survived JV week without incident, with Florida State and North Carolina each putting up 80 points, Georgia Tech crushing Alabama A&M 66-7, and Clemson taking care of business against the Citadel with a 56-7 win. Two teams, UNC and Pitt, got to bowl-eligibility, setting up for some great showdowns this coming rivalry weekend.

The bad: Well, there is always Virginia, which lost by 19 at Miami and remains winless in ACC play. And there is NC State, also winless in ACC play after a 14-point home loss to East Carolina -- which, to add insult to injury, further declared its place in the Triangle in a season in which it beat both NC State and North Carolina.

The ugly: North Carolina's 80-20 win over Old Dominion featured a shortened fourth quarter, from 15 minutes to 10. And none of the Tar Heels' 80 points ended up coming in the final frame. Funny enough, this was actually a 14-13 game after the first quarter. I was at Notre Dame on Saturday, and when the out-of-town scores were announced in the press box, this game was announced: "North Carolina 80, Old Dominion 20. That's football, not basketball."

[+] EnlargeDaniel Rodriguez
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtClemson walk-on WR Daniel Rodriguez, a Purple Heart recipient, caught a TD pass Saturday, providing a heart-warming moment.
The awesome moment: It came at the 14:10 mark of the fourth quarter, with Clemson already holding a 45-3 lead over the Citadel. Then, Daniel Rodriguez caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Cole Stoudt, for his first career touchdown. On Military Appreciation Day, no less. If you're not already familiar with Rodriguez's story, become so. Simply amazing.

The icers: Paul Chryst, bravo. Randy Edsall, not so much. Up 17-16 with 1:03 left and Syracuse facing a fourth-and-8 from the Pitt 36, Chryst called a timeout right as the Orange were about to attempt a game-winning field goal, which was then revealed to be a fake, a fake that looked destined to be good. Terrel Hunt then threw an incomplete pass out of the timeout, sealing bowl-eligibility for the Panthers and leaving Syracuse with no other choice but to beat Boston College this Saturday in order to make the postseason. Edsall, meanwhile, called a timeout to ice BC kicker Nate Freese's 52-yard game-winning attempt, which hooked left. With new life from Edsall's timeout, however, Freese drilled it, giving the Eagles a 29-26 win at Maryland, their fourth straight victory.

The unconventional two-pointer: Speaking of BC-Maryland, how about the wild extra-point sequence in the fourth quarter? Alex Amidon hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass for BC with 5:02 left to take a 26-24 lead. But the extra point was blocked, and Anthony Nixon ran it back the other way to tie the game at 26. You don't see that every day.

The Heisman hopefuls: In making your case for why you should win college football's highest individual honor, you can do a lot worse than what Andre Williams and Aaron Donald did on Saturday. Williams rushed for 263 yards, eclipsing the 200-yard mark for the third straight game. He also got to 2,073 yards on the season, becoming just the 16th player in college football history to reach the 2,000-yard plateau. His 36-yard run set up the game-winning field goal for Boston College. Donald, meanwhile, was named the Walter Camp defensive player of the week award, as the Pitt defensive tackle tallied nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a blocked extra-point attempt that provided the winning margin in a 17-16 win at Syracuse.

The three-headed attack: Here's another box-score oddity you don't see every day: Florida State had three different players average better than 11 yards per carry. Devonta Freeman carried it 11 times for 129 yards and a touchdown (11.7 yards per carry), Karlos Williams ran it 10 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns (11.4 ypc) and James Wilder Jr. rushed four times for 85 yards and a score (21.3). The Seminoles had 336 rushing yards on the day, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt.

The Blue Devils: Where do we start this time? Duke is in the BCS standings for the first time, at No. 24, after getting picked to finish last in the Coastal Division by the media in July. The Blue Devils have now clinched a tie of the division title after beating Wake Forest 28-21, and can win it outright by winning this Saturday at North Carolina. They have tied a school record with nine wins, something they have not done since 1941. And they have won seven straight games for the first time since 1994.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
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Sorting out the ACC after Week 13:

1. Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Seminoles were their usual dominant selves in an 80-14 dismantling of Idaho, leaving little doubt their on-field performance this season makes them worthy of playing for a national championship. They will try to close their first unbeaten regular season since 1999 against sinking in-state rival Florida.

2. Clemson (10-1, 7-1; LW: No. 2): As expected, the Tigers had no problems against The Citadel. This week will not be so easy as they try to end a four-game losing streak to South Carolina. Tajh Boyd has thrown 12 touchdown passes to two interceptions in his past three games, and is completing 78.3 percent of his passes in that span.

3. Duke (9-2, 5-2; LW: No. 3): We could be on the verge of witnessing history. After beating Wake Forest 28-21 on Saturday, Duke wins the Coastal with a victory over North Carolina on Saturday. Anthony Boone had his best game since returning from a collarbone injury, and the defense had another stellar fourth-quarter performance. Duke has won nine games for the first time since 1941.

4. Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3; LW: No. 4): While it is true the Hokies have not looked so hot recently, they are the best positioned after Duke to make the ACC championship game. If the Blue Devils lose to the Tar Heels and the Hokies beat Virginia, there are several scenarios that favor Virginia Tech for a spot in the ACC title game. Plus, they own a 4-1 record in the Coastal and victories over Miami and Georgia Tech.

5. Miami (8-3, 4-3; LW: No. 5): The Canes ended their three-game losing streak with a much-needed win over Virginia thanks to their maligned defense, which came through with four turnovers -- two returned for scores. Concerns remain about an inconsistent offense and a struggling Stephen Morris, who was off once again in the win over the Hoos.

6. Georgia Tech (7-4; 5-3; LW: No. 6): No surprise at how soundly the Jackets dispatched Alabama A&M for a second win over an FCS opponent this year. Now comes the best opportunity in years to beat in-state rival Georgia, heavily handicapped because of injuries. Coach Paul Johnson has beaten Georgia only once in five meetings, and that came in his first season as head coach.

7. North Carolina (6-5, 4-3; LW: No. 7): The surging Tar Heels have won five straight and are playing some of the best football in the ACC. You could make an argument they deserve to be ranked higher. But they did lose to the three teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and their victories have come against UVa, NC State, Pitt and Old Dominion. Not exactly heavyweights there.

8. Boston College (7-4, 4-3; LW: No. 8): A bit of fortune helped Boston College beat Maryland on Saturday, along with a lot of Andre Williams. The senior running back has now topped 2,000 yards on the season, and folks across the nation are taking notice. Expect him to earn a few more votes in the ESPN.com Heisman Watch on Tuesday. BC now has a chance to win eight games for the first time since 2009.

9. Pitt (6-5, 3-4; LW: No. 11): The Panthers secured bowl eligibility following a 17-16 win over Syracuse, despite being outgained, losing the turnover battle and falling short in time of possession. Special teams was the reason. Aaron Donald came up with a blocked extra point, and a timeout call just as Syracuse was about to fake a field goal were the two big turning points.

10. Maryland (6-5, 2-5; LW: No. 10): There is no way around it. Maryland lost a heartbreaker to Boston College on senior day. Coach Randy Edsall decided to call timeout to ice kicker Nate Freese, who ended up missing the 52-yard attempt. When he got his second shot, Freese nailed the kick to win the game. The Terps did lose head-to-head to Syracuse but they are bowl eligible, so that gives them the spot ahead.

11. Syracuse (5-6, 3-4; LW: No. 9): Talk about losing a heartbreaker. Syracuse did, too, and now the Orange's bowl hopes are on life support with a game against former Big East rival Boston College to close the season. Terrel Hunt played better, but injuries have really taken a toll on this team defensively.

12. Wake Forest (4-7, 2-6; LW: No. 12): The Deacs put forth a great effort in a loss to Duke, jumping out to a 14-0 lead before ultimately coming up short. They will not make a bowl game for the fourth time in five seasons, putting a damper on a season that began with postseason expectations.

13. NC State (3-8, 0-7; LW: No. 13): Hard to say what the low point has been this season for new coach Dave Doeren. Losing to East Carolina certainly did not seem like a certainty when the season began. But everything has unraveled for the Wolfpack, who went 0-4 against teams from North Carolina this season. They will try to avoid their first winless season in ACC play since 1959 against Maryland this weekend.

14. Virginia (2-9, 0-7; LW: No. 14): The Hoos have lost eight straight, and have only one win over an FBS program this season. Virginia has now allowed 35 or more points in seven losses this season, and Greyson Lambert has come in to finish the last three games.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Well that was quite a weekend, huh? And after all of that ... the ACC still has three top-10 teams going into Week 9. But before we look ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the conference.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRashad Greene and the Seminoles, who are ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings, dominated Clemson, 51-14.
The good: The ACC has a clear national title contender, and that is what is needed most for this conference to establish itself as a legitimate force atop college football. Looking for someone to dethrone Alabama and the mighty SEC? You might need to look no further than Saturday night's game at Clemson, when Florida State punched the Tigers in the mouth early and dominated from start to finish, deflating a much-hyped game in a way that had not been seen in this sport since the Crimson Tide did the same to Notre Dame in last season's BCS title game. The ACC has not had so much as a one-loss conference champion since the Seminoles' 12-0 national title campaign in 1999, and it is extremely difficult to see an outfit as talented as the one that owned Death Valley this weekend dropping two contests, based on its schedule. One loss will be hard enough for any other conference foe to deliver, as Florida State checked in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings and now has every reason to believe it can compete for a national title. (Its quarterback could be pretty busy come awards time, too.)

The bad: No, this was not "pulling a Clemson." The Tigers simply got beat, badly, by a better team. And you can very well make the argument that they could and would beat every other ACC team outside of Florida State. But this was their moment, complete with a second visit from "College GameDay" and another prime-time showcase for a program with national title aspirations. Instead, this game was over shortly after it started, with Tajh Boyd not performing up to expectations and the highly touted, improved defense proving to be no match for the Seminoles' skill players. This has to be, in some ways, disheartening, considering this was Clemson's shot at home with a senior quarterback against a Seminoles team that had lost 11 NFL draft picks and will only get better moving forward. Clemson, currently ranked ninth, can still have a very strong season, so long as it doesn't reel from Saturday's rude awakening.

The ugly: Syracuse went into Atlanta with a bit of momentum after registering its first ACC win, at NC State. Instead a Georgia Tech team that had lost three in a row smacked the Orange from start to finish, winning 56-0 for its second shutout of the season, marking the first time the Yellow Jackets had shut out two opponents in a season since defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a team captain in 1985. Terrel Hunt struggled in his third conference game, failing again to reach the 100-yard passing mark and this time getting pulled for Drew Allen. Defensive tackle John Raymon was lost for the season as well with a right knee injury. The Orange could use the bye to regroup before hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

The walking wounded: It was bad enough that Maryland struggled throughout a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. But the Terrapins also lost two of their top offensive weapons, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending leg injuries. Diggs broke his fibula and Long broke his fibula and tibia. Maryland had started 4-0 before losing 63-0 at Florida State, barely beating Virginia and then getting routed by the Demon Deacons. It had already suffered a handful of defensive injuries before Saturday, and things won't get any easier this coming Saturday as it hosts No. 9 Clemson, which is coming off its first loss.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, DeShawn Williams
AP Photo/Mike StewartCan Dabo Swinney's Clemson team bounce back from its big loss to Florida State?
The history: On the other end of that matchup in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wake Forest saw a new receiver etch his name to the top of the school record book. Michael Campanaro had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming the Demon Deacons' career leader in receptions with 217, passing Desmond Clark. He is second in the ACC in both catches (55) and receiving yards (704) on the season, and he also threw a touchdown pass for good measure against the Terrapins.

The second-half charge: Duke finds itself on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the second straight year after overcoming a 22-point deficit at Virginia and pulling out a 35-22 win to improve to 5-2. The Blue Devils got a boost from both quarterbacks as Anthony Boone threw two touchdown passes and Brandon Connette ran one in for a score. Duke converted four fourth-down second-half plays as it scored the game's final 35 points and delivered the reeling Cavaliers another blow as they fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage publicly backed coach Mike London last week, but questions will continue to mount if the Cavaliers continues to struggle.

The anomaly: Miami is No. 7 in the BCS standings after eking out a victory Thursday at one-win North Carolina. Stephen Morris struggled, throwing four interceptions, which marked the third straight game the Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times (Miami somehow won all three games). The Canes are 6-0 and host Wake Forest this weekend before traveling to Florida State on Nov. 2, but they lost Duke Johnson (head) and Phillip Dorsett (knee) to injuries in Chapel Hill. Johnson is expected to be fine, but Dorsett will miss four to six weeks with an MCL tear.

The ground boost: Pitt finally got the lift it needed from its rushing game, as Isaac Bennett carried the ball 30 times for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win over Old Dominion. The Panthers improved from 105th to 91st nationally in rushing yards per game (141.67). For a program that had tallied just 8 and 23 yards rushing in its previous two games, the timing could not have been better.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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The moment is almost here. Florida State-Clemson is the highlight of this weekend's ACC lineup, and of the conference's season. National title implications, Heisman Trophy implications and much more are on the line Saturday night in Death Valley. Here's what to look for in that contest and everywhere else in the league this weekend, which gets a head start tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C.

1. Miami's ball security. The Hurricanes are a top-10 team and 5-0. But an overlooked aspect through this start has been just how sloppy they have been with the ball in recent weeks. Miami has turned the ball over four times in each of its last two contests, and it needs to be sharper offensively coming out of the bye week as it faces a nearly desperate North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina hopes the return of Bryn Renner will help the Tar Heels get closer to their potential.
2. Bryn Renner's return. The UNC quarterback missed the Virginia Tech game two weeks ago because of a foot injury but will play against Miami. Marquise Williams was solid in Renner's spot and could see more time, but the Tar Heels need their veteran presence back as they look to shake the cobwebs from a 1-4 start and emerge from the bye looking more like the team that had Coastal Division title dreams entering Larry Fedora's second season. Their all-black uniforms -- part of their "Zero Dark Thursday" billing -- should be something to watch, too.

3. Terrel Hunt looks for breakout ACC performance. The Syracuse quarterback ran away with the starting job in strong outings against Wagner and Tulane, but he has struggled against Clemson and NC State. He threw for less than 100 yards in each contest, though he did rush for 92 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wolfpack. Still, Hunt must continue to grow and the offense has to continue to evolve after relying so much on the veteran ground game.

4. Georgia Tech D hopes for turnaround. The Yellow Jackets felt they turned a corner when they shut down UNC late last month to get to 3-0. But they have dropped three in a row since, giving up 38 or more points in each of the last two contests. Of course, throwing a pick-six in each of the last two games doesn't help matters, either, but Georgia Tech desperately needs a stronger performance from its defense to get back on track and be in position for a bowl berth.

5. C.J. Brown back leading Maryland. To be fair, Caleb Rowe played well last week against Virginia, but the Terrapins' offense operates at a different level with Brown in charge. Back from a concussion suffered at FSU, Brown will look to build off his nearly 64 percent completion percentage and help Maryland clinch bowl eligibility against Wake Forest, no small feat for a program that had just six total wins in coach Randy Edsall's first two seasons.

6. Duke's D looks to keep it going. The Blue Devils made a bit of a statement in their 35-7 win over Navy, their second straight game generating pressure up front. They will look to do that again this weekend against a struggling Virginia squad, though ACC offenses have not been kind to Duke in the past year. The Blue Devils have not won a league game since last Oct. 20 and have given up at least 38 points in every ACC contest since then.

7. Virginia looks for playmakers in the passing game. David Watford may have come of age at Maryland in defeat, but he needs some help from his receivers. Tight end Jake McGee leads the Cavaliers with 27 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but no receiver has reached the 20-catch mark. Virginia ranks 104th nationally in passing yards and must improve on offense after coming up just short against the Terrapins in a game that was closer than most expected it to be. The offense gave itself a chance at the end and did not give the ball away all game.

8. Can Pitt establish the run? For as much success as the Panthers have had through the air, their ground game has been M.I.A. through the season's first five games, ranking 105th nationally. They have tallied just eight and 23 yards, respectively, in their last two games against Virginia and Virginia Tech. Old Dominion and Navy these next two weeks should provide Pitt nice opportunities to gain some traction in the run game.

9. Famous Jameis' big moment. Everything about Jameis Winston says that he loves the spotlight. But the redshirt freshman sensation has never been tested the way he will Saturday night, as FSU's ACC and national title hopes rest on his right shoulder in the first major test of a career that looks destined for greatness. Can Winston handle the Death Valley atmosphere, and can he exceed the ridiculous expectations that have been placed on him since Week 1? He could be racking up some hardware if he plays anything like he has so far.

10. Spotlight again shines on Death Valley. "College GameDay" is back at Clemson for the second time this season in what is arguably the biggest regular-season game in ACC history. It's another chance for Tajh Boyd to make a Heisman stand, but the onus may ultimately fall on the Tigers' much-improved defense, which has a pass rush that leads the nation in sacks per game. The defense will look to do everything it can to rattle Winston early and solidify this squad as a legitimate national title contender with its second top-5 win of the season.

ACC predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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AA missed on her upset pick last week, and both of us missed the Syracuse upset over NC State. Heather won the week, going 5-1, and now we are tied 50-9 overall.

Let's see what Week 8 has in store.

Thursday night

No. 10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #MIAvsUNC. The Tar Heels host just the second Thursday night home game in school history, desperately hoping to turn around their season. They face a tall task against the surging Hurricanes, who are making their first trip outside the state of Florida this season. North Carolina has won four of the past six meetings, including an 18-14 victory last season. Quarterback Bryn Renner is expected back in the starting lineup, but the big question is whether this Tar Heels squad will find its running game against a much-improved Miami D that's ranked No. 12 in the nation in total defense. Miami should be able to put up some points on a shaky North Carolina D. It is just hard to imagine the Tar Heels being able to keep up. AA picks: Miami 35, North Carolina 21

HD picks: Miami 38, North Carolina 24

Saturday

Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsGT. This game most certainly has bowl implications for both teams as the second half of the season gets underway. The Orange have momentum on their side after a big road win over NC State last week, while the Jackets have dropped three straight. But those three losses have come against teams with a combined 15-3 mark. This is going to be a ground-and-pound type of game, and Georgia Tech gets the edge based on the scheme. Syracuse has put up monster rushing numbers in the past two games, but the Tech defense has allowed just five running plays of 20 yards or more this season and is in the top 25 in rush defense. So is Syracuse's defense, but I think the Jackets' run offense will be able to make more plays. AA pick: Georgia Tech 28, Syracuse 23.

HD pick: Syracuse 31, Georgia Tech 28: The Orange will win because of their ability to run the ball and control the clock -- the most effective defense there is against Paul Johnson’s spread-option offense. In a game that will feature two struggling quarterbacks in Vad Lee and Terrel Hunt, Cuse’s ground game will be the difference. Syracuse has rushed for more than 300 yards in each of the past two games and will continue that success on the road.

Maryland (5-1, 1-1) at Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2), 3:30 p.m, ESPNU. #MDvsWAKE. Quarterback C.J. Brown is back in the starting lineup -- great news for Maryland, which is trying to become bowl eligible. But injuries have started to take a toll on the defense. The Terps already lost starting cornerback Dexter McDougle for the season and now starting linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, who was playing very well before he got hurt last week. Maryland gave up more than 500 yards to Virginia Saturday, a team with no playmakers. While the Wake offense has been shaky at times, we saw much improvement last time out against NC State. Wake Forest has won three straight in the series at home. AA likes the Deacons in an upset: Wake Forest 24, Maryland 23.

HD pick: Maryland 28, Wake Forest 21 -- Brown's return to the lineup after missing last week with a concussion will be the difference in the game. The Terps’ ability to run the option and Brown’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback will make life difficult for the Deacs. Wake Forest has one of the ACC’s best receivers in Michael Campanaro, but Brown has more playmakers around him. The Terps will become bowl eligible for the first time under Randy Edsall -- and they’ll get it done in Winston-Salem.

Duke (4-2, 0-2) at Virginia (2-4, 0-2), ESPN3. #DUKEvsUVA. Duke has won four of the past five in the series and got a major boost when Anthony Boone returned to the starting lineup last week, earning ACC weekly honors. Boone made his first career start against the Hoos in 2012 and had four touchdown passes. Virginia, meanwhile, has looked a little better on offense the past few weeks, but it has not been able to get into the win column since Sept. 21. The defense has been inconsistent as well. Boone makes the difference in this game for the Blue Devils. AA picks: Duke 35, Virginia 28

HD picks: Duke 28, Virginia 24

Old Dominion (4-2) at Pitt (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #ODUvsPITT. The Panthers get a break from ACC play against Old Dominion, which lost to Maryland earlier this season 47-10. Pitt has worked on shoring up the offensive line and establishing the run game at practice this week. Believe it or not, it is the defense that has played more consistently the past several weeks. The Panthers really do need to get their run game going to help take some pressure off Tom Savage. AA picks: Pitt 40, Old Dominion 3

HD picks: Pitt 48, Old Dominion 7

No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #FSUvsCLEM. One of the biggest games in ACC history is nearly here, putting the spotlight squarely on the conference at the midway point of the season. We don't think either team will disappoint. The big story everybody has focused on pits Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but really, we should be talking about how each will fare against the best defenses they have seen to date. It may all come down to how they both handle pressure. Winston has been slightly better than Boyd in this respect, completing 69.6 percent of his passes when teams bring five or more pass-rushers. Boyd is completing just 57 percent of his passes in similar situations, and both his interceptions this season have come against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Winston has not seen a pass rush as good as the one Clemson has this season, nor anybody as talented as end Vic Beasley. Boyd, meanwhile, has been in these big-game situations before, so he gets a slight edge. Home-field advantage also gives the Tigers a big edge in the intangibles department. AA picks: Clemson 31, Florida State 30

HD picks: Clemson 35, Florida State 31

What to watch in the ACC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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The real fireworks come next week, when Clemson and Florida State face off in Death Valley in what figures to be the most compelling ACC game of the season. But there's a lot on the line this week, too, as the Tigers try to stay unbeaten and a host of once-promising seasons around the league are in need of salvaging after bad losses a week ago. Here are a few storylines to watch in Week 7.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaFor Boston College to have success against Clemson, it will likely need another big day from Andre Williams (right).
Clemson's focus: The Tigers have already been through one "game of the year" scenario, but that came in the opener against Georgia. Clemson had the luxury of planning well in advance for that one. To get to its second marquee matchup Oct. 19 against Florida State, however, Clemson still needs to get past Boston College. The Eagles would love for Clemson to look ahead, setting up a classic trap-game scenario. BC already gave FSU a major challenge two weeks ago, and it has proved it's capable of playing with the ACC's best. But if the Tigers are focused, they'll be tough to beat, and so far this week, Dabo Swinney, Tajh Boyd & Co. have made a point of avoiding questions about the Seminoles and making certain Boston College is the priority.

Williams' workload: Boston College has already won more games in 2013 than it did all of last season, and a big part of that success can be pinned on running back Andre Williams, who has been a workhorse. Williams leads the nation in rushing yards per game (153.6) and attempts per game (26.6). Only seven tailbacks have averaged that many carries over a full season in the past five years. Last week was Williams' finest performance to date. He carried 30 times for 263 yards and five touchdowns -- his second 200-yard game of the season. While Clemson figures to make things tough for BC this week, the Tigers' rush defense ranks 12th in the ACC, allowing an average of 171 yards per game on the ground.

Vad Lee's struggles: The season began with such optimism for Vad Lee and Georgia Tech, but after losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, in which Lee turned the ball over five times (three interceptions, two fumbles), the mood has changed. Last week, buzz circulated that backup quarterback Justin Thomas might supplant Lee as the starter, though that proved to be more of a social media rumor than an actual game plan for Paul Johnson, and when Thomas did get his shot against Miami, he didn't look much better. Still, Lee's struggles have directly correlated to Georgia Tech's consecutive losses, and the fans are getting restless. He'll have a chance to right the ship this week against BYU, which ranks 24th nationally in total defense.

Maryland's recovery: How does a team off to its best start in more than a decade recover from a 63-0 shellacking? That's the question facing Randy Edsall and the Terrapins this week. After they were pummeled by Florida State, the test figures to be a bit easier this week when Maryland hosts Virginia. The Cavaliers have scored just 59 points in their four games against FBS foes -- or four fewer than FSU scored just last week. Still, Maryland came out of last week's loss banged up, both physically and mentally. Whether QB C.J. Brown (concussion) will play remains a question, and just how focused the Terps will be after such a crushing loss will likely be a major factor in how well they rebound.

Pitt receivers vs. Hokies secondary: Believe it or not, the Panthers have actually beaten Virginia Tech -- their former Big East rival -- in four straight games, including last year's 35-17 victory. While the Hokies enter the game riding high and in command in the Coastal Division, Pitt still controls its own destiny in the division and has won three straight games. The Virginia Tech defense has been lauded as perhaps the nation's best, but Pitt boasts the ACC's top receiving tandem in Tyler Boyd and Devin Street -- one of just three sets of teammates in the nation averaging 100 yards per game -- giving the Hokies' talented secondary its biggest test to date.

Thomas' resurrection: Through the troubles of 2012 and the offensive struggles to open 2013, no one faced more criticism at Virginia Tech than QB Logan Thomas. Some of it was warranted. From the start of last season through Week 4 of this year, Thomas completed just 50 percent of his throws, averaged 6.5 yards per attempt and had 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. But Thomas has looked like a star the past two weeks. He has completed better than 65 percent of his throws in consecutive games for the first time in his career, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, thrown four TDs and hasn't thrown an interception.

Duke's defense: The Blue Devils have allowed 30 points or more in three straight games, giving up an average of 6.4 yards per play during that stretch. That has overshadowed some solid offensive performances, as quarterback Brandon Connette has racked up 11 touchdowns in his past two outings. Duke gets Navy this week, and the Midshipmen rank eighth in the nation in rushing. When Duke faced a similar style of offense at Georgia Tech three weeks ago, the defense allowed 344 yards on the ground. The Blue Devils hope they've shored things up during a bye week, and Duke has won its past two meetings against Navy.

Virginia's offense: Against FBS teams, Virginia is averaging just 3.73 yards per play -- the third-worst rate in the nation. The passing game has been at the forefront of the struggles. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in passing offense, and QB David Watford's 37.5 adjusted QBR ranks 100th nationally. In a loss last week, the offense coughed up four turnovers, resulting in 17 Ball State points. On the upside, however, Virginia did put up 27 points in last week's loss, offering some hope that if it can cut down on the mistakes, things are headed in the right direction. UVA will get its shot to prove it against a Maryland defense that just coughed up 63 points to FSU last week.

Mitchell time in Raleigh?: Brandon Mitchell returned to the practice field and resumed throwing for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot in NC State's opener. It's still unclear whether he'll play Saturday against Syracuse, but the Wolfpack could clearly use a jolt after a frustrating 28-13 loss at Wake Forest. More than getting their starting QB back, however, the Wolfpack need to shore up a lot of details that eluded them against Wake, Dave Doeren said. He challenged his team to cut penalties and focus on fundamentals in this week's game as NC State tries to avoid an 0-3 start in ACC play.

Hunt's second chance: Optimism was ubiquitous and expectations were high as Terrel Hunt readied for his first ACC game last week against No. 3 Clemson. The outcome couldn't have been much worse. The talented Syracuse QB completed just 33 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. Still, Hunt insists the performance hasn't rattled him and he'll make the necessary changes for a rebound performance this week against NC State. Prior to the Clemson game, Hunt had been 33-for-43 passing for 468 yards and accounted for nine touchdowns without an INT.

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