NCF Nation: Tom Savage

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.
Paul ChrystCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPaul Chryst's commitment to his players has helped make Pitt an attractive option for transfers.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Paul Chryst was canvassing Heinz Field before last year's Notre Dame game when he made a beeline for David Robinson, whose son played for the Irish. Chryst re-introduced himself to the NBA legend, who was at Navy when Chryst's brother, Rick, worked for the Midshipmen's media relations staff. Robinson laughed during the conversation, and he could not help but relay it to Rick minutes after.

"He goes, 'David, Paul Chryst. I'm Ricky's brother,'" Rick recalled. "David goes, 'I thought you were the head coach.'"

Perhaps no story better encapsulates Chryst's understated approach as the public face of a storied program. The son of a Div. III coach, he has been in coaching his whole life, with his only "real" job coming as a teenager when he helped his two brothers on their paper routes. He has had 12 different gigs as a college and pro assistant at 10 different stops, including three separate stints as a player and coach at Wisconsin, where he ended up playing for three different head coaches as a result of the death of Dave McClain.

His background is familiar to a Pitt program that he has brought some stability to now in Year 3, as the Panthers remove further away from the unceremonious exits of Todd Graham and Mike Haywood. And it might also explain the ease with which Chryst has handled one of the team's biggest building blocks: transfers.

It's not that Chryst has welcomed in others at an alarming rate; it's just the success he's had doing so. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson thriving after joining the Badgers from NC State is one thing. Turning a nearly-broken Tom Savage last year into an attractive NFL quarterback — while relying this year on three different starters who began their careers elsewhere — is quite another.

Chryst insists he hasn't drawn up a secret formula for properly integrating newcomers, saying that simply doing enough homework raises the odds of them turning into success stories.

"If you're bringing someone in, we are truly spending time — even when Russell came in — spending time getting to know them," said Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator for Wilson's lone year in Madison. "Spend time talking to people that know them, people that don't necessarily have a vested interest in them, and finding out who they are. Knowing if you have a need. Do they fit a need?"

This year's Pitt starters are expected to include a former Michigan safety (Ray Vinopal), a former Ohio State end (David Durham) and a former Wisconsin receiver (Manasseh Garner).

Vinopal had transferred before the 2011 season, sitting out during Graham's lone year at Pitt. A product of Youngstown, Ohio, powerhouse Cardinal Mooney, Vinopal found a sense of familiarity with Chryst when the coach initially addressed his new players.

"When I first met him, it was like he was saying everything that I did in high school, just on a grander stage," Vinopal said. "And that's when I knew — I had success in the past with it, and I know that Pitt's going to have success with it, in the future and this year."

Chad Voytik saw enough of the same in Chryst in a short amount of time to resist bolting for greener pastures after the coach he committed to, Graham, left for Arizona State. The quarterback even went as far as to help patch the rest of Pitt's 2012 class back together, sold on Chryst's refreshing blueprint to rebuild the program from the inside-out.

Chryst cited the wayward career of Voytik's predecessor, Savage, as an example of why he feels the need to make things right when players enter a new program. Savage sat out two straight seasons before 2013, having been at Rutgers and Arizona before departing the Wildcats due to a coaching change.

"I think you owe that to the player, too," Chryst said of his due diligence. "I know what happened to Tommy when he had to transfer again. That's not right. And so I think you maybe have to be a little more sure that it is a good fit for them and for us, because they don't have another opportunity. That's it."

Rick said his brother took a cue in his approach from their late father, George, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville for 14 years and, like Paul, reveled in camp two-a-days and other fundamental aspects of the profession. Rick said that mentality served the brothers well as they worked their ways up in the sports world. (Rick is a former Mid-American Conference commissioner, while their other brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.)

"Whatever we were doing or wherever my dad was, that seemed like it was the biggest thing at the time," Rick said. "The Platteville Pioneers were playing Whitewater, and what could be bigger than that?"

When Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson had trouble one day reaching Chryst out at the Rose Bowl shortly after hiring him, Chryst called back the next morning apologizing, saying that Wilson had pulled him aside for a film session that went late into the night.

"You never have to apologize to me for that," Pederson said. "And I said that's exactly what you want. [He's] just totally committed to his players."

Vinopal echoed that sentiment, saying his ability to approach Chryst is night and day from that of past coaches. Chryst likes to think his open-door policy is more than just a saying, and the success rate of others walking through those doors to Pitt speaks to that.

"I think you're a better coach if you know your players better," he said. "And I don't think by any stretch that I've arrived or any of our coaches have arrived. I think we still need to do a better job of getting to know our players, and them getting to know us. And to me that's part of the fun of it, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying it."

Pittsburgh Panthers season preview

August, 15, 2014
8/15/14
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Panthers:

Key returners: QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, RB Isaac Bennett, WR Tyler Boyd, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE David Durham, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Ray Vinopal

Key losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jason Hendricks

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd looks to build on a freshman All-America season.
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 versus Iowa, Oct. 16 versus Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 versus Duke, Nov. 15 at North Carolina, Nov. 29 at Miami

Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 63.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are a pair of freshman cornerbacks who will likely be counted on heavily to provide some needed depth at the position, as Titus Howard's season-long suspension leaves Pitt with just two returners with any experience at the position (Pitts and Trenton Coles). Both Maddox (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and Motley (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) arrived this summer as ESPN three-star prospects, and the learning curve will likely be accelerated as the Panthers search for more bodies in coverage.

High point from 2013: A 28-21 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 9 buried the Fighting Irish's remaining BCS bowl hopes and, at least partially, erased some of the sting from Pitt's consecutive three-point losses to them in 2011 and 2012. It's more useful, however, to look back at the 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green, as youngsters Voytik, Conner and Boyd all stepped up in a big way, something each hopes is a sign of things to come for 2014.

Low point from 2013: A 24-21 loss at Navy on Oct. 26 marked the first of a two-game slide (Pitt lost at Georgia Tech a week later), threatening to keep the Panthers out of postseason play before they pulled off the upset the following month over the Irish. Still, Pitt dropped three contests in a four-game stretch surrounding the loss to the Midshipmen, with its only win during that stretch coming against Old Dominion.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Voytik builds off his late-game experience from the Pizza Bowl and gives Pitt a dynamic threat under center, the experienced-but-shaky offensive line jells, Boyd continues his ascent and the defense makes big strides. Pitt takes advantage of a rather friendly schedule, makes a run at 10 wins and emerges as the champion of a Coastal division that is simply begging someone to step up.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offensive line continues to struggle, leaving Voytik vulnerable and the offense out of flux. The front seven fails to make up for the loss of Donald, allowing opponents time to test a green secondary. The Panthers win four games, taking a step back after consecutive bowl seasons in Paul Chryst's first two years. The youth on this team, however, is probably still enough to keep the future promising.

They said it: "I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh. You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that absolutely -- it's a great sports town but a heck of a football city. High school football is big on Fridays. Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday. We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the university and the tradition of a great university. I want the ex-players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it. But that's where we want to go, and that's what I mean, we're not where we want to be. But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity." -- Chryst, on how he defines Pitt football
Randy EdsallTony Quinn/Icon SMIThere's no easy winning formula for Randy Edsall and Maryland as they transition to the Big Ten.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knew exactly what to expect -- and where to focus -- when his Utes moved from the Mountain West in 2011 to the Pac-12: Recruit better prospects. Upgrade the facilities. Break down new opponents.

But that didn't make the transition any easier.

The Utes made a big splash that first season and finished 8-5, before dropping to 5-7 in the two seasons thereafter. Whittingham knew a drop-off like that was possible -- a move into one of the Power Five carries with it certain risks -- but that doesn't mean any challenges caught the 54-year-old head coach off guard.

"No real surprises," Whittingham told ESPN.com. "Nothing blind-sided us from a football perspective. It was exactly as anticipated. ... The bottom line is it's just a process transitioning. We're not making excuses -- people don't care; we have to win -- but it takes time to ramp up."

With three programs set to officially join a new power conference Tuesday -- Louisville to the ACC; Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten -- that process will play out once again. New members know they'll have to adjust, improve and upgrade before taking a step forward in their new conferences. But that doesn't make the task any easier.

Since 2000, a dozen other football programs have transitioned into one of the Power Five conferences. And, in their first seasons, only three teams improved upon their previous year's record -- with just two watching their win total increase by more than one. For most teams, the acclimation has been gradual.

"There are no shortcuts," Whittingham added. "But I don't think there's anything that's undiscovered or a secret. It's pretty simple and pretty plain."

In one interview after another, five coaches told ESPN.com the same three keys for transitioning successfully: improve recruiting, upgrade facilities and figure out those new teams. That really shouldn't come as a shock, as those tips are useful for any team in any circumstance. But when it comes to transitioning, several coaches said, those priorities are magnified.

All of a sudden, during that conference transition, Utah's great facilities in the Mountain West didn't quite pass muster with USC's 110,000-square-foot sports facility or Oregon's $68 million football building. So it unveiled its own new facility last fall. In 2004, Virginia Tech's old Big East recruiting footprint wasn't enough to dominate long-term in the ACC. So the staff immediately sought out prospects in Georgia and the Carolinas. And, in 2005, Boston College's staff was forced to scout nine new opponents on a schedule that ballooned from No. 74 in terms of strength to No. 22. So, even during "off time," some coaches stared at their laptop screens morning to night.

Each team needed to improve in that area immediately or risk falling behind their conference foes. Transitioning is a constant arms race, after all, a game where teams that tread water end up sinking. There's no such thing as being stationary in college football, especially during such a transition. Especially during that first season.

"It's definitely more of a burden that first season, for sure. No doubt," said former Boston College assistant Jerry Petercuskie, who helped oversee the Eagles' transition to the ACC and currently coaches at FCS Elon. "But there's no magic in it. It's just getting your players to play and adapting to the enemy."

Truthfully, several coaches said, there's not much they can do to quicken that Year 1 transition. Payoffs in recruiting and facility upgrades aren't immediate; the main short-term advances come from locking yourself in the film room and studying up on new opponents.

In other words, the recipe for such immediate success isn't a big secret either. Of the three teams that did improve their record that first season, they all returned solid teams that boasted solid quarterbacks. Texas A&M had Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (7-6 record to 11-2), Virginia Tech started first-team All-ACC QB Bryan Randall (8-5 to 10-3), and Pitt had NFL draft pick Tom Savage under center (6-7 to 7-6).

So, until that increased recruiting focus starts to yield changes on the field, most coaches during the transition spend a considerably higher amount of time figuring out opposing schemes, opponents and situations.

"When you're away from the office, every coach is looking at the opponent. You need to figure out that new enemy," Petercuskie said. "[Coaches] are a paranoid group of people. We don't want to go out on a Saturday afternoon in front of a national TV audience and get embarrassed. So we're going to do whatever we have to do."

Added Tom Bradley, who coached at Penn State during its move to the Big Ten and is currently the senior associate head coach at WVU: "I would say it took a couple of years for us to really get a beat on teams -- to understand the fans and feel comfortable with the climate you're entering. What do they like to do in certain situations? Not knowing that definitely made it harder."

No one can say for sure exactly how Louisville, Rutgers and Maryland will fare in their new conferences: Virginia Tech assistant Charley Wiles believes the Terrapins are already a bowl-caliber team; Temple assistant Ed Foley thinks Rutgers will wind up in the middle of the pack. But everyone knows what these teams have to do to succeed.

They can't win in Year 1 without a solid group of returners. They have to upgrade their facilities to stay competitive. And above all -- Whittingham said this was 80 percent of the transition – they need to recruit well. Do all that, and the wins will roll in faster than the fans' question marks.

Transitioning successfully is as simple -- and as difficult -- as that.
The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

Instant Analysis: Pitt 30, BGSU 27

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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Pitt withstood the loss of quarterback Tom Savage and held off Bowling Green, 30-27, to win the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and clinch its first winning record (7-6) under second-year coach Paul Chryst. Here is how it went down.

It was over when: Chris Blewitt hit a 39-yard field goal to give Pitt the 30-27 lead with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in the game. Blewitt went 3-for-4 on the night and was 2-for-3 in the second half. On Bowling Green's ensuing drive, Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell came up with consecutive sacks of Matt Johnson to set up a fourth-and-40 with 31 seconds left. The Falcons' desperate, multi-lateral attempt from their end zone was entertaining for a few seconds, but it eventually ended with the Panthers taking over possession to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: James Conner was absolutely phenomenal for Pitt, carrying the ball 26 times for 229 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Conner broke Tony Dorsett's school record for rushing yards for a bowl game (202, set versus Georgia in the 1977 Sugar), with the true freshman accounting for nearly half of what he gained through 12 regular-season games this season (570). Oh, and as a pass-rusher on Bowling Green's final possession, Conner drew a crucial hold on Jacob Bennett that preceded Pitt's back-to-back sacks.

Stat of the game: Pitt outgained Bowling Green by a margin of 487 yards to 290. Considering that the Falcons entered the contest atop the Mid-American Conference in every single major defensive category (No. 8 nationally in total D), and considering that the Panthers were without their starting quarterback for much of the contest, and considering that Bowling Green was coming off a 574-yard performance at Ford Field in its previous outing, against Northern Illinois, this was nothing short of staggering.

Unsung hero: Chad Voytik stepped in when Savage went down with a rib injury and delivered a performance that had to have put a smile on Pitt fans' faces. The redshirt freshman completed 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards and carried it two times for 24 yards with a touchdown. Can't ask for much more than that.

What it means for Pitt: The Panthers exit Year 1 of the ACC era with a winning record, showing tangible progress under the Chryst regime in Year 2. More importantly, they closed out the 2013 season with young faces dominating the show. While Donald, Savage and Devin Street will all be missed, Voytik and Conner made big plays all night, and true freshman Tyler Boyd further cemented himself as one of the top receivers in the nation to keep an eye on moving forward, as he closed his rookie campaign with eight catches for 173 yards and a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means for Bowling Green: Forget about this and move forward. The Falcons had a wonderful season, winning their first MAC title in 20 years and ruining then-undefeated NIU's BCS-bowl hopes. Their coach, Dave Clawson, got the head-coaching job at Wake Forest for his efforts. (Adam Scheier served as interim coach for this game.) And while the defense will not like the way this season ended, there is plenty ahead to be excited about, especially on offense, as Johnson (20-of-32, 273 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers Thursday) returns for his redshirt junior season under new coach Dino Babers, whose quarterback lineage includes FCS player of the year Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (Baylor).

To watch the trophy presentation of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, click here.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl preview

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
9:00
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Pitt and Bowling Green square off at 6 ET Thursday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Here are a few players, keys and storylines to watch when action kicks off in Detroit:

Who to watch: Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald takes the field for his final college game after a regular season that saw him win four national awards and earn unanimous All-America honors, becoming the school's first player to gain that distinction since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Donald is capable of changing a game in a number of ways, disrupting the backfield (26.5 tackles for loss) while taking down quarterbacks (10 sacks). And the man he will be chasing, Falcons signal-caller Matt Johnson, is a dual-threat gunslinger who is coming off a statement win in the MAC title game.

What to watch: Bowling Green returns to Ford Field less than three weeks after winning the league title in a surprising rout over Northern Illinois. Johnson, its quarterback, completed 21 of 27 passes and tallied 426 total yards and five touchdowns in the 47-27 upset. In his first full season as a starter, the sophomore has completed better than 64 percent of his passes for 3,195 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Johnson has rushed for 268 yards and five more scores as well. The undersized Harrisburg, Pa., native did not receive an offer from the Panthers coming out of Bishop McDevitt, and a number of his Falcons teammates from Pennsylvania were overlooked by the in-state school as well. This has not been lost on them as they look to take down an ACC opponent before entering a 2014 campaign with very large expectations.

Why to watch: As good as Johnson has been, Bowling Green has gotten this far because of its defense, which leads the MAC in scoring D, total D, rushing D and passing D. That last category is one to keep a close eye on, as Pitt boasts a pair of extremely talented receivers in Devin Street and Tyler Boyd, both of whom senior quarterback Tom Savage developed an early rapport with in his first year as the starter, helping the Panthers get to another bowl in coach Paul Chryst's second season -- no small feat considering the step up to the ACC this year from the Big East. Pitt also has a signature victory over Notre Dame on its resume.

Prediction: Bowling Green 31, Pitt 26. With interim coach Adam Scheier at the helm, the Falcons offense gets off to a hot start and delivers a win that leads to plenty of hype entering Year 1 of the Dino Babers era in 2014.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Not much movement in the latest installment of the Power Rankings. As has been the case this season, there is a clear top and a clear bottom. The others can duke it out in the middle.

1. Florida State (12-0, 8-0; last week: No. 1). The Noles are the new No. 1 team in the nation after they completed their regular season unbeaten and Alabama lost. All that is left to secure a spot in the BCS title game is a win over Duke in the ACC championship game Saturday. This FSU team has been utterly dominant all season long, beating its opponents by an average of 42 points per game.

2. Clemson (10-2, 7-1; LW: No. 2). The same old problems plagued the Tigers in their fifth straight loss to rival South Carolina: turnovers. Six of them, to be exact, in a 31-17 loss. Though this team ends the regular season with 10 wins for just the fifth time in school history, losing to both Florida State and South Carolina has to be utterly disappointing for a group that went into the season with national championship aspirations.

3. Duke (10-2, 6-2; LW: No. 3). The history-making season continues. Duke beat in-state rival North Carolina 27-25 to post the first 10-win season in school history and win the Coastal Division outright. The challenge grows steeper now against Florida State in the ACC title game. Winning the Coastal is one thing. But now Duke will see how it measures up against the best team in the nation.

4. Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 4). It was not pretty, but Virginia Tech beat Virginia yet again to close the season on a high note. There will be plenty of "what could have beens" spoken among Hokies fans, considering some of the ugly losses that ended up costing them dearly. Still, this season was an improvement over last even if it didn't feel that way at times.

5. Miami (9-3, 5-3; LW: No. 5). Give the Hurricanes credit for finishing the season out the right way after a three-game losing streak threatened to derail them. Miami soundly beat Pittsburgh on the road and has won nine games for the first time since 2009. A win in the bowl game would give Miami at least 10 wins for the first time since going 11-2 in 2003. There is no doubt progress is being made.

6. Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 6). What a heartbreaking way to end the season for the Jackets, who blew a 20-0 lead on in-state rival Georgia and lost in double overtime. This team can take pride in its effort, though it is little consolation today. Still, Georgia Tech did beat Duke soundly in September. It could not get out of its own way in losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, and that ended up costing it a spot in Charlotte.

7. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7). The Tar Heels saw their five-game winning streak come to an end in a loss to Duke, but that should not take away from what this team accomplished in the second half of the season. There is not much doubt this team is playing some of the best football in the ACC right now and has rising stars on its roster in Marquise Williams, Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, Quinshad Davis and T.J. Logan.

8. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 11). The Orange could not have waited any longer to become bowl eligible, running out all but six seconds on the season before beating Boston College with a last-second scoring pass. Though this was not as successful a season as last season, give the Orange props for standing on the verge of making consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1998-99.

9. Boston College (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 8). One week after winning a heart-stopper over Maryland, the Eagles lost a heart-stopper to Syracuse. Still, there is no way to look at this season as anything other than a rousing success. Boston College is going back to a bowl game and has instilled a toughness on this team that will be a signature as long as Steve Addazio is the coach.

10. Maryland (7-5, 3-5; LW: No. 10). The Terps closed out their final ACC season with a 41-21 win over NC State in another outstanding performance for quarterback C.J. Brown. Definite progress was made after two miserable losing seasons, but the Terps are headed into the unknown as they switch over to the Big Ten.

11. Pitt (6-6, 3-5; LW: No. 9). The Panthers closed the season 2-4 and are lucky to be bowl eligible given the way they have played for a majority of the season. Special teams did them in again in a 41-31 loss to Miami to end the year. Among the myriad issues this team dealt with, it was an inability to run the ball that probably vexed it most. Tom Savage was simply asked to do too much.

12. Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 12). The Deacs closed another tough season with a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt. On the season, they lost four games by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those would have gotten them to bowl eligibility again. Instead, coach Jim Grobe is facing another long offseason full of questions.

13. NC State (3-9, 0-8; LW: No. 13). Nobody anticipated the Wolfpack would go from a bowl team to one of the worst teams in the ACC under new coach Dave Doeren. But injuries, scheme changes on offense and defense and instability at quarterback sent this team spiraling. The Wolfpack lost eight of their nine games by double digits.

14. Virginia (2-10, 0-8; LW: No. 14). The Hoos completed their worst season since 1982 with a 10th straight loss to in-state rival Virginia Tech. Athletic director Craig Littlepage has given coach Mike London a vote of confidence headed into next season, but there cannot be any margin for error in 2014. London must win to save his job.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Just two more weeks left in the regular season. But before looking ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTailback James Wilder Jr. rushed for two touchdowns on just three carries in Florida State's romp of Syracuse.
The good: There's not a whole lot not to like about another brilliant Florida State performance, as the Seminoles rolled to a 59-3 win over Syracuse to clinch a perfect ACC season. Jameis Winston (19-of-21 passing) was only needed for a half, and he got plenty of help from his supporting cast, with Karlos Williams making the most of his four carries (78 yards), Kenny Shaw adding 99 receiving yards on seven catches and the defense holding the Orange to 68 first-half yards on 30 plays. Those poor souls from Idaho entering Tallahassee this coming weekend for Senior Day ...

The bad: What happened to you, Miami? Just three weeks ago you entered a prime-time showdown at rival FSU riding high, undefeated, free of the NCAA cloud and ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings. You've lost three games since, the latest a 48-30 contest at Duke, which wrestled away control of the Coastal Division from you. You gave up 358 rushing yards to a team that entered averaging just 165.9 per contest. Fortunately, you have Virginia on deck this weekend for Senior Day.

The ugly: Speaking of Virginia, the Cavaliers have some company in the cellar of the ACC, as NC State lost again, this time a 38-21 contest at Boston College. The Wolfpack fell to 0-7 in ACC play for the first time in program history, and they are now guaranteed to miss a bowl game in Year 1 under Dave Doeren. Andre Williams did a lot of this to them, too.

The history: Williams keeps finding records to chase. This time the Eagles senior rushed for an ACC single-game record of 339 yards, giving him an ACC single-season record of 1,810 rushing yards on the season. The previous ACC single-game record was 329 by Wake Forest's John Leach in 1993 versus Maryland, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And the previous league single-season record was 1,798 by Virginia's Thomas Jones in 1999. Williams' 339 yards Saturday were the most by an FBS player in a game this season, though it was not the most across college football Saturday: That would belong to Cartel Brooks and his 465 yards for Div. III Heidelberg, a new NCAA record.

More history: Tajh Boyd broke Phillip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes, as he now has 97. And the Clemson quarterback had 340 passing yards in Thursday's win over Georgia Tech, leaving him one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record of 18.

(We want) more history: OK, fine. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for four touchdowns, giving him 29 rushing touchdowns for his career, breaking the previous school record of 28, set by Tom Davis from 1941-44.

The fun and games: Hey, who doesn't like a game of Hangman? It's not like the end of the Florida State-Syracuse game featured anything more dramatic, anyway.

The consistently inconsistent: Pitt was thisclose to keeping Notre Dame out of the national title game last season. It then followed things up by laying an egg at UConn. The Panthers finally took down the Irish this year, so how did they respond? Naturally, by falling behind by 24 points in the second half in an eventual 34-27 home loss to red-hot North Carolina. Give credit to Pitt for mounting a furious comeback to tie the game, and to Tom Savage and Devin Street for playing hurt, but surrendering a pair of punt return touchdowns to Ryan Switzer did not help matters. The Panthers remain at five wins, with a game this weekend at the always-tricky Carrier Dome on deck before the season finale against Miami.

The celebration: Did you see how happy Randy Edsall was? Maryland finally got to bowl eligibility under the third-year coach, snapping a three-game losing streak by pulling off the overtime upset at Virginia Tech. This was a big deal for Edsall & Co., as evidenced by his oh-so-happy postgame demeanor.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Duke, yes Duke, is the No. 3 team in the conference right now, the leader in the Coastal Division and the front-runner to play Florida State in the ACC championship game. With the way this season has gone, though, the Coastal Division race isn’t over until the regular season has ended. For now, though, Duke has earned its spot alongside the league’s elite. The rest of the ACC? Well, it remains a jumbled mess as usual. Here’s our best shot at sorting it out:

1. Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles had no problem picking apart Syracuse in a 59-3 win, staying on course to play for the national title. Quarterback Jameis Winston showed no signs of being distracted by recent allegations of his possible involvement in an investigation that is almost a year old. He completed all but two pass attempts (19-of-21) for 277 yards and two touchdowns.

2. Clemson (9-1, 7-1; LW: No. 2) -- The Tigers cruised past Georgia Tech 55-31 in a nationally televised Thursday night game. It was an opponent that in recent years had given Clemson’s defense some trouble. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for four touchdowns and missed only six passes. He also ran for 43 yards and a touchdown.

3. Duke (8-2, 4-2; LW: No. 4) -- The Blue Devils are just two wins away from playing in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, as they finish the season with back-to-back road games against Wake Forest and North Carolina. With the 48-30 win over No. 23 Miami, Duke beat its second ranked team of the season. Duke has won six straight games and is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this week.

4. Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3; LW: No. 5) -- The Hokies were shocked at home in a 27-24 overtime loss to a struggling Maryland team, and have now lost three of their past four games. It was too little, too late against the Terps, who jumped out to a 21-7 lead. The Hokies have a bye week before finishing the regular season at rival Virginia.

5. Miami (7-3, 3-3; LW: No. 3) -- The Canes defense continues to regress, as Miami has allowed over 40 points in three straight losses. Duke rushed for 358 yards in the 48-30 win -- the most ever under coach David Cutcliffe at both Duke and Mississippi -- and Brandon Connette rushed for a career-high four touchdowns. Miami ends the season against Virginia and Pitt.

6. Georgia Tech (6-4, 5-3; LW: No. 6) -- The Jackets defense didn’t have an answer for Boyd and the Tigers offense. The loss ended a three-game winning streak, and it was the last ACC game of the season for Georgia Tech. The Jackets still face Alabama A&M and rival Georgia, but their hopes of playing in the ACC title game now hinge entirely on others.

7. North Carolina (5-5, 4-3; LW: No. 10) -- The Tar Heels continued their remarkable turnaround with a 34-27 win at Pitt. After starting the season 1-5, UNC has now won four straight and is one win shy of bowl eligibility with two games remaining. UNC should get that win this weekend against Old Dominion, and it will face Duke in the final game of the regular season.

8. Boston College (6-4, 3-3; LW: No. 8) -- In what was the final home game of the regular season for BC, running back Andre Williams helped rush the Eagles back to bowl eligibility in a 38-21 win over NC State. Williams ran for an astounding 339 yards to break Boston College's single-season and single-game rushing records. He had over 100 yards in the first quarter alone. BC ends the season with back-to-back road games at Maryland and Syracuse.

9. Syracuse (5-5, 3-3; LW: No. 9) -- The Orange was just the latest victim of Florida State, and it couldn’t even keep it interesting, being held scoreless until the fourth quarter. Syracuse can still become bowl eligible, though, by winning at least one of its last two games, against either Pitt or Boston College.

10. Maryland (6-4, 2-4; LW: No. 12) -- The Terps did the inexplicable and found a way to win in Blacksburg despite having lost three straight and four of their past five. They have quarterback C.J. Brown to thank for it, as Brown was the difference in the 27-24 overtime win. He ran for 122 yards, including a touchdown in overtime. Maryland held the Hokies to a field goal in overtime before Brown sealed the deal.

11. Pittsburgh (5-5, 2-4; LW: No. 7) -- A week after knocking off Notre Dame, the Panthers fell at home to UNC and once again couldn’t protect quarterback Tom Savage, who was sacked seven times. Pitt had no answer for UNC’s Ryan Switzer, who returned two punts for touchdowns, including the game winner with 4:46 remaining. Pitt can still become bowl eligible by winning at least one of its two remaining games, which include Syracuse and Miami.

12. Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5; LW: No. 11) -- The Deacs had a bye week to regroup after three straight losses, and they’re going to need it, as they’ll be facing a surging Duke team with everything to lose. The Deacs, meanwhile, are in a must-win situation and have to win out to become bowl eligible.

13. NC State (3-7, 0-7; LW: No. 13) -- A dreadful first season for Dave Doeren continued with the Pack’s sixth straight loss. NC State allowed BC 420 rushing yards, and had no answer for Andre Williams. The Pack also was held to just 35 rushing yards. NC State has yet to win a league game and only one more chance to get it -- the regular-season finale against Maryland. This weekend, NC State hosts East Carolina.

14. Virginia (2-8, 0-6; LW: No. 14) -- The Cavaliers had a bye week after losing seven straight. Coach Mike London said the team has focused on getting the younger players some meaningful reps. They travel to Miami this week before ending the season at home against rival Virginia Tech.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here is what we make of this past weekend in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsQuarterback Jameis Winston had another huge day in Florida State's win over Syracuse. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
1. Noles keep rolling. No. 2 Florida State's 59-3 win over Syracuse gave the Seminoles their eighth perfect ACC season. But how about some of these nuggets, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info: FSU is the first team to score 59 or more points and hold an opponent to three or fewer points in consecutive games since 1988, when FSU did it then, too. The Seminoles became the first team to rush for 200-plus yards on 20 rushes or fewer since Hawaii did it against Purdue in 2006. They became the first team to run the ACC table by winning each game by 10 or more points since FSU did it in 1994. And the Noles are the first team in the last 10 seasons with three conference wins by 55-plus points. They have scored at least 40 points in all 10 games, too, one shy of Texas' 11 games with 40 or more points in 2005.

2. Duke is for real, folks. Make that six in a row for the Blue Devils, now 4-2 in the ACC and in sole possession of first place of the Coastal Division. They ran over, around and through Miami in delivering the Hurricanes their third straight loss, as they reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1994 and beat Miami for the first time since 1976, and just the second time ever. Duke has won consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time since 1989. Hats off to David Cutcliffe & Co., who close at Wake Forest and at North Carolina, and may just be ranked when the polls are released later today.

3. BC, Maryland going bowling. Give credit to both schools for big performances Saturday. Andre Williams was his ridiculous self again, setting the ACC single-game and single-season rushing record as he went for 339 yards (1,810 on the season) as the Eagles closed out Senior Day with a 38-21 win over NC State. C.J. Brown, meanwhile, rushed for 122 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 3-yard rush as Maryland upset Virginia Tech in overtime. North Carolina edged a step closer to the postseason with a win over Pitt. The Panthers, meanwhile, play fellow five-win team Syracuse this Saturday, meaning at least one will become bowl eligible as well. NC State's postseason hopes, meanwhile, are officially over with its loss at BC.

4. UNC keeps rolling. Speaking of North Carolina ... what a turnaround for the folks in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won four in a row after racing out to a 27-3 lead versus Pittsburgh, blowing it, then hanging on for dear life as Ryan Switzer clinched the win with a 61-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter. Marquise Williams continued to impress stepping in for the injured Bryn Renner, as he completed 15 of 27 passes for 173 yards and added 79 rushing yards and two scores on 15 carries. The defense sacked Tom Savage seven times, and now all UNC needs to do is beat Old Dominion at home Saturday to clinch bowl eligibility.

5. Remember Clemson? BCS bowl executives probably should. The Tigers became the forgotten team after getting routed at home by Florida State. And they will probably need to win at rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale. But they are looking pretty good right now at 9-1, impressively routing Georgia Tech 55-31 on Thursday night behind Tajh Boyd's 340 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Boyd broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes (he now has 97) and is one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record (18) in that category, too.

ACC predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
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Last week saw a few upsets in the ACC, costing Heather a little more than Andrea. Heather went 4-3 on the week after picking Maryland, Notre Dame and Miami to win. Andrea went 5-2, correctly picking the Hokies to upset the Canes. Andrea now has a one-game lead in the overall standings with a 67-18 mark. Plenty of time for Heather to walk away with the highly coveted, extremely prestigious ACC predictions trophy.

Now on to the picks!

Thursday night

Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) at No. 8 Clemson (8-1, 6-1), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #GTvsCLEM. Recent history suggests this game is going to be close, so expect the same this season. Both teams have plenty on the line in this one, which is the final ACC contest for each. The Yellow Jackets need a win to stay in contention for the Coastal Division crown. Clemson needs a win to stay in contention for an at-large BCS berth. Georgia Tech's defense is much better than the group that allowed Clemson to rack up 601 yards of total offense a year ago, but the Tigers’ defense is better than it was a year ago, too. Tajh Boyd will find a way to make enough plays on this D. He needs three touchdown passes to break the ACC career mark of 95 set by former NC State All-American Philip Rivers (2000-03).

AA picks: Clemson 38, Georgia Tech 33

HD’s pick: Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 28

Saturday

NC State (3-6, 0-6) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NCSTvsBC. The Wolfpack have not been able to find a way to win games in the fourth quarter this season. They continue to struggle with quarterback issues, the biggest reasons why they remain winless in ACC play. Meanwhile, BC has found ways to win the last two weeks in the fourth quarter and now stands one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack are getting several key players back on their defensive front, but Andre Williams seems like an unstoppable force right now. Williams needs 256 yards to break Mike Cloud's single-season school record for rushing yards.

AA picks: Boston College 24, NC State 21

HD’s pick: Boston College 28, NC State 21

North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pitt (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UNCvsPITT. Both teams have experienced a youth movement of sorts this season. Twelve true freshmen have played for Pitt, and the Panthers are led in seven statistical categories by freshmen. Meanwhile, 24 of North Carolina's 32 touchdowns this season have been scored by freshmen or sophomores. Young players like Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, T.J. Logan and Khris Francis have been critical to North Carolina's recent turnaround. With an improving defense, North Carolina has not given up nearly as many big plays over its three-game winning streak: only 12 of 46 "big plays" given up have come during this streak. The Tar Heels are on a hot streak, and that continues against a Pitt team that might have a letdown following an upset of rival Notre Dame.

AA picks: North Carolina 28, Pitt 24

HD's pick: Pitt 24, North Carolina 21: The Panthers are confident from their win against the Irish, and this is the win they need to become bowl eligible in front of a home crowd. More importantly, quarterback Tom Savage was sacked only one time by Notre Dame -- a huge improvement in the pass protection. Pitt’s offense is taking care of the ball well and will continue to open up the play-action against UNC with a strong running game. Another big reason the Panthers get it done? Defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He’ll make himself comfortable in the Tar Heels’ backfield.

Maryland (5-4, 1-4) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #MDvsVT. Well look who has played its way back into the Coastal Division race? None other than the familiar Hokies, who are riding high off an impressive win at Miami. Logan Thomas had one of the best performances of his career, and the run game was outstanding. Virginia Tech hopes to carry that momentum against the Terps, who are on a three-game losing streak. A sputtering Maryland offense is not going to be able to do much against the No. 3-ranked defense in the country.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 30, Maryland 10

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 31, Maryland 13

Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) at No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. #CUSEvsFSU. Everybody already has penciled in wins for Florida State the rest of the way out, but the Seminoles are going to have to guard against complacency if they want a spot in the national championship game. Syracuse has shown improvement with its run game and on defense over the last two weeks. In five wins this year, the Orange are averaging 244.4 yards rushing. To have any shot at the upset, Syracuse is going to have to maintain that average. That is a tall task.

AA picks: Florida State 49, Syracuse 13

HD’s pick: Florida State 42, Syracuse 10

No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #MIAvsDUKE. Miami is not going to lose three straight games. It doesn't matter how bad its defense has looked over the last two weeks or how badly it missed Duke Johnson against Virginia Tech. That game got out of control because of special teams miscues that put Miami in a hole from the outset. Duke has its own issues to deal with on offense, with nine turnovers over its last three games, all wins. A big reason has been the play of the defense, which has forced nine turnovers over the same stretch. Miami simply has way more talent on offense than anybody the Blue Devils have faced this season, and Stephen Morris will find a way to get Miami back in the win column.

AA picks: Miami 30, Duke 21

HD’s pick: Duke 28, Miami 24: Going out on a limb here, but it’s not a typical week in the ACC if there isn’t at least one shocker. The main reason for this pick, though? Duke has an honest-to-goodness belief it can win. The Blue Devils went on the road and beat Virginia Tech. There’s no reason they can’t beat an average Miami team at home if they play smart, disciplined, mistake-free football. Sure, Miami has more “athletes,” but right now, Duke has the better defense and all of the momentum it needs for its second upset of the season.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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What did we learn in the ACC in Week 11? Glad you asked.

1. Florida State controls its national championship destiny. The nation watched No. 3 Oregon lose to No. 5 Stanford on Thursday, then saw No. 2 Florida State completely dominate Wake Forest 59-3 Saturday to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. There is little doubt the Seminoles will remain at No. 2 when the BCS standings are released later Sunday. Nor is there any real doubt Florida State is one of the best teams in the country, not after a third win this season by 50 or more points. Florida State has won all nine of its games by double figures and got big-time contributions from its defense and special teams against the Deacs. The Noles ended up with six interceptions -- nearly the same number of Wake Forest pass completions (seven). There are other unbeaten teams lurking, namely Ohio State and Baylor, but Florida State is in control of its championship destiny.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Getty ImagesVirginia Tech left Miami lying helpless and reinserted itself into the Coastal Division race.
2. The Coastal, however ... up for grabs! If you thought this weekend would provide a much clearer picture in the Coastal, then you do not truly know ACC football. Four teams have two conference losses each -- Miami, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia Tech. So start getting yourselves reacquainted with the tiebreaker scenarios that seem to come into play just about every season. The Hokies put themselves back into the thick of the race with a 42-24 win over Miami on a rainy Saturday night, thanks to a mistake-free performance from Logan Thomas and some pretty shoddy special teams play from the Canes. Duke sat on the brink of disaster against NC State, trailing 20-17 with 6:37 to go. The Blue Devils benched starter Anthony Boone after an uneven performance. Brandon Connette delivered the game-winning drive, then DeVon Edwards sealed the win with back-to-back pick-6s. Georgia Tech was off and needs a win over Clemson on Thursday night to keep its hopes alive. The lucky winner to emerge from this muddled mess gets to play Florida State in the ACC championship game.

3. Miami falling back to earth. We all saw the warning signs that Miami was not as good as its ranking when it struggled to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks. Now the Canes are back to reality after consecutive losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech. Miami was able to get away with turnovers early in the season, but the Hokies made them pay for their mistakes. Two early fumbles on special teams led directly to 14 Virginia Tech points, and Miami could never seem to recover. Perhaps most disheartening for Miami -- the loss was the worst defensive performance of the season, against an offense that ranks among the worst in the nation. The Hokies scored more points and gained more yards on the Canes than the Noles did last week. Miami has given up 400 yards or more in four of its last five games. And the run game without Duke Johnson? Miami ended up with 28 yards rushing, its lowest total since gaining 29 against Florida State last year.

4. Breakthrough win for Pitt. It was easy to doubt the Panthers heading into their game against Notre Dame. They entered the contest off back-to-back losses, and their run game was nearly nonexistent. But something about the Irish brings out the best in Pitt, which came oh-so-close to pulling the upset in each of the previous two seasons. Well, the Panthers finally broke through Saturday night, forcing three turnovers and getting inspired play from their offensive line and Tom Savage in a 28-21 win. It certainly helped Pitt's cause that Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt was ejected on a questionable targeting call early in the game, further depleting an injury-riddled group. But Pitt earned this win. The Panthers moved one victory away from bowl eligibility and gave coach Paul Chryst victories over ranked teams in consecutive seasons.

5. Bowl mania. Six teams are already bowl eligible, but the ACC could have as many as 11 by the time the season ends. Four teams have five wins: Maryland, Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College. North Carolina has four wins but has won three straight after a 1-5 start and is now in contention to get to six. How did the ACC get here? Syracuse once again used its power run game in a 20-3 win over Maryland, winning its second straight contest. Boston College also used its power run game to win a tricky contest over New Mexico State. We know what Pitt did Saturday. Interestingly enough, Maryland might have the worst chance of becoming bowl eligible out of this group. While North Carolina is on an upswing, the Terps have lost three straight following a 5-1 start with games remaining against Virginia Tech, Boston College and NC State. There are winnable games in that bunch, but not if Maryland commits four turnovers the way it did against Syracuse. Key injuries on both offense and defense have severely hampered this squad.

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

ACC weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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We are all pumped for this weekend's matchup between the ACC's two highest-ranked teams. But before we move ahead, let's take one final look back at the weekend that got us here in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeClemson
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson survived an upset bid by Boston College.
The good: As mentioned before, we still have this weekend's showdown to look forward to. That's because Clemson avoided … well, you know. Steve Addazio and Boston College deserve all the credit in the world for challenging everyone in conference play so far, and they are not taking solace in any type of moral victories. That said, the Tigers averted a crisis by coming back from a fourth-quarter deficit and pulling out a 24-14 home win Saturday. Now they get a shot at Florida State this coming weekend, in a game with national title and Heisman Trophy implications on the line.

The bad: NC State looked to be in a pretty good situation as recently as two weeks ago, as it had just blown out Central Michigan after taking a pretty good shot at Clemson. A relatively easy slate that featured upcoming games against Wake Forest and Syracuse made a 5-1 start seem like a real possibility, with who knows what else to come. Instead, the Wolfpack have dropped both of those games, the most recent coming in Saturday's 24-10 home loss to the Orange. Florida State awaits after a bye. Maybe, maybe if the Seminoles beat Clemson, they will be prime for a letdown -- and we all know how potent NC State can be against FSU in such a situation -- but the path to bowl eligibility looks a bit more difficult now than it did just a short time ago for a program that is now 0-3 in conference play.

The ugly: Georgia Tech is similar to NC State in the quick turnaround department. The Yellow Jackets have followed three straight wins with three straight losses, the latest a 38-20 defeat Saturday at BYU. A defense that looked so much better through three games under new coordinator Ted Roof has now given up 83 points over its last two games, though it has not been helped out by an offense that has thrown a pick-six in each of those contests. Still, it may be time to wonder if this team will go bowling, considering it has a back-loaded schedule that features Clemson and Georgia, along with the fact that one of its remaining games is against FCS Alabama A&M, the second of Tech's FCS opponents this year (Elon, Week 1), meaning it needs seven wins to be postseason eligible.

The return: Anthony Boone returned after missing three games with a broken collarbone and delivered the best performance of his career, hitting on 31 of 38 throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns in Duke's 35-7 win over Navy. Boone filled in for Brandon Connette, who hurt his ankle this week and forced Boone, the Blue Devils' original No. 1 quarterback, back into action (Boone found out about the decision just minutes before kickoff). Boone's completions, attempts and passing yards were all career highs for 4-2 Duke.

The nation's best ... defense? Yes, it is a fair question to ask in Blacksburg, Va., especially after watching what Virginia Tech did to Pitt in its 19-9 victory to win its sixth straight contest and gain bowl eligibility for the 21st straight season -- one year after needing to win its final two games to reach the postseason. The Hokies sacked Panthers quarterback Tom Savage eight times, had 10 tackles for loss and held Pitt to just 210 yards of total offense. Virginia Tech now ranks No. 4 nationally in total defense, first in total sacks, tied for first in interceptions and tied for seventh in turnovers forced. Quarterback Logan Thomas' improved play makes this team much more complete, too.

The rebound: OK, so it was just a 27-26 win over Virginia, arguably the conference's worst team. But for a Maryland team coming off a 63-0 loss at Florida State, well, it will take the victory, win No. 5 on the season. The Terrapins were also playing without quarterback C.J. Brown (concussion), but backup Caleb Rowe stepped in and completed 18 of 34 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown. They notched a win over one of their oldest rivals in what was the last meeting for the foreseeable future (the Big Ten-bound Terps have played the Cavaliers every single year since 1957).

The history: Yes, Saturday's win in Raleigh, N.C., was noteworthy for Syracuse, as it marked the Orange's first win in ACC play. It came just a week after their conference debut, in which Clemson did whatever it wanted inside the Carrier Dome in a Tigers rout. Syracuse once again got a huge boost from its ground game, with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each eclipsing the 100-yard mark as the team tallied 362 rushing yards. A struggling Georgia Tech team awaits, followed by Wake Forest and Maryland. So the chance for the Orange to build some momentum off this win will be there, though they will need better quarterback play.

The quote: Clemson's Vic Beasley, on this weekend's showdown with Florida State, via the Charleston Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner: "It may be the biggest game in ACC history. We don’t know. But our goal is to win a national championship."

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