NCF Nation: Vad Lee

The runs by Mississippi State and Georgia Tech to a New Year's Six bowl game have seemingly come out of nowhere. Both programs' coaches were under heavy scrutiny last season. Both programs entered 2014 as afterthoughts in their respective conferences. But the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami will provide a great opportunity for one of these teams to end the season with a signature win on Dec. 31.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMississippi State coach Dan Mullen's only losses this season were to ranked teams -- Bama and Ole Miss.
So who's done more with less this season? SEC reporter Greg Ostendorf and ACC reporter Matt Fortuna debate about Dan Mullen and Paul Johnson -- both of whom won league coach of the year awards in 2014.

Ostendorf says Mullen: It's not easy to win at Mississippi State. Before this season, the program had just two 10-win seasons, and the Bulldogs have been playing football since the early 1900s. Ironically, the first time they won 10 games (1940) was the last time they played in the Orange Bowl. And now it's all come back full circle -- thanks to Mullen.

He's turned Mississippi State, a perennial doormat for other SEC teams over the years, into a legitimate contender. And to think, just last season the Bulldogs had to rally against rival Ole Miss to become bowl-eligible. If they lost that game, there's a chance Mullen might have been gone. Now he's one of the top candidates for coach of the year, and the only way he's leaving is if he takes a promotion and leaves for a bigger program.

Don't get me wrong. I like Johnson. I like that he's stuck to his offense despite the criticism over the years. But Mississippi State's offense ranks top 10 nationally in yards per game, and not one starter was ranked in the ESPN 150 recruiting rankings.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. Thanks to Mullen's tutelage, he was one of the SEC's best players this season. He threw for 2,996 yards and rushed for 939 yards and was tops in the conference with 37 total touchdowns.

The same goes for running back Josh Robinson, a two-star recruit in high school, and wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who was a better basketball prospect than he was a football prospect. The Bulldogs' roster is littered with players who weren't given a chance by other SEC programs, and now those same players are knocking off the league's top teams.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
AP Photo/David TulisCoach Paul Johnson guided the No. 12 Yellow Jackets to a 10-3 overall record this season.
And that might be the difference between Mullen and Johnson. Georgia Tech had a great season and nearly took down Florida State in the ACC title game, but Mississippi State won 10 games playing in the SEC West, arguably the best conference in college football. The Bulldogs beat teams such as Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M when nobody gave them a chance.

Fortuna says Johnson: It's not always so easy to win at Georgia Tech, either. Just ask Johnson, who was candid last offseason in saying that the tone in the Atlanta area surrounding his program was often too negative. Sure, the Yellow Jackets are going to their 18th straight bowl game this season, but there always seems to be a ceiling with them. Heck, in a summer poll on ESPN.com, 55 percent of voters said that "something needs to change around the program." And those fans were given two other choices in the poll, not just one.

Moreover, Johnson lost more than a dozen non-senior players this offseason for a variety of reasons. That, coupled with no wins over rival Georgia since a victory in Johnson's 2008 debut, made for a cloud of uncertainty around Georgia Tech entering 2014. The Jackets were picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division in the preseason ACC media poll.

Instead, Johnson gave his critics one more shove to the side, earning a four-year contract extension in the process.

Mullen may not have had an ESPN 150 recruit on his offense, but he has company: Johnson did not, either. (Nor did he on defense.) All the Jackets did was finish second nationally in rushing (333.62 yards per game), a further testament to Johnson's system -- regardless of the recruiting obstacles, academic or otherwise, that may hamstring him in the crowded, fertile Atlanta area.

He brushed off the sudden departure of starting quarterback Vad Lee, who would've been the only ESPN 150 recruit on this roster, and helped turn a redshirt sophomore, Justin Thomas, into one of the most efficient signal-callers in the country. He overcame stretches without go-to backs such as Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins. His defense overcame its flaws by making big plays, forcing 27 turnovers, which was tied for 16th nationally.

As good as some of those wins by Mississippi State looked at the time, they dimmed considerably once everyone's body of work was complete: Auburn finished ranked 19th, LSU 23rd and Texas A&M unranked. Georgia Tech closed the season by beating No. 17 Clemson and by winning at No. 13 Georgia. Reigning national champion Florida State had to play arguably its most complete game of the season to finally fend off the Jackets in the ACC title game. And the Seminoles won by just two points.

Mississippi State, of course, was last seen losing to rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, an indignity that, in the eyes of some, will cast this otherwise remarkable campaign in an entirely different light.

With both overachieving teams entering this finale off a loss, perhaps we will get a definitive answer to this question between the Bulldogs and Jackets when the dust settles on the Sun Life Stadium field, right around the time the ball drops to close 2014.

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.

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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Kudos to Heather for correctly picking Ball State to upset Virginia last week. Neither one of us thought Wake Forest would beat NC State, but the Deacs proved us wrong. So did Florida State and Clemson. What were we thinking picking such close games?

Heather won the week, going 6-1, while Andrea went 5-2. AA still has a one-game lead over HD in the overall standings. Now on to the picks!


Pitt (3-1, 2-1) at No. 24 Virginia Tech (5-1 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #PITTvsVT. We have talked all week about Pitt's four-game winning streak in the series, dating back to their days as Big East rivals. But that streak is going to come to an end in Blacksburg. The matchup between the standout Pitt receivers and the terrific Virginia Tech secondary is one to watch, but here is where the Hokies have the major advantage -- up front. The Pitt offensive line is coming off its worst performance of the season and now has to face one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC. Virginia Tech has 19 sacks on the season and leads the league in rushing defense.

AA's pick: Virginia Tech 28, Pitt 17

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 21, Pitt 17


Navy (3-1) at Duke (3-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NAVYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils have a few advantage going into this game. They already have faced a similar-style team in Georgia Tech, and they got an extra week to prepare. Unfortunately for them, they did end up losing to the Jackets, a team that has since dropped two straight. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is playing extremely well for the Midshipmen right now, and their defense is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Whether quarterback Anthony Boone returns or not, AA is calling for the upset.

AA's pick: Navy 35, Duke 34

HD’s pick: Given the extra week and the game against Georgia Tech earlier, there’s no excuse for the Blue Devils not to be prepared for this one. They’re averaging 38 points at home and should be able to expose weaknesses in Navy’s run defense. This is the kind of game the program needs to win to get to the postseason on a routine basis. Duke 31, Navy 28


Virginia (2-3, 0-1) at Maryland (4-1, 0-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #UVAvsMD. We will get an update on Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown later today, when the Terps are required to release their injury report. Coach Randy Edsall has been mum all week on whether Brown (concussion) would play. Whether he does or not, Edsall is going to have to get his team to forget about what happened in a 63-0 drubbing at Florida State. Reports have said that the Maryland offensive line tipped its plays based on its stances. The good news for the Terps is they are facing a reeling Virginia team that has lost three straight to FBS teams. In four games against FBS opponents, the Hoos are averaging 14.8 points.

AA's pick: Maryland 21, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Maryland 24, Virginia 10


Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) at NC State (3-2, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsNCST. Both teams come into the game off disheartening losses, but probably more so for NC State. The Wolfpack were expected to beat Wake Forest, but managed their lowest scoring and yardage output of the season. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell could return, but even if he sits out another week, getting running back Matt Dayes and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling back will help. NC State has a Top 20 rushing defense, and that will be a huge key to slowing down the Orange, who racked up over 300 yards on the ground last week against Clemson.

AA's pick: NC State 28, Syracuse 24

HD’s pick: NC State 31, Syracuse 21

Boston College (3-2, 1-1) at No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0), ABC/ESPN2. #BCvsCLEM. We can't say enough about the job coach Steve Addazio and his staff have done in transforming one of the worst-run offenses in the nation a year ago into a group that has produced the country's leading rusher in yards per game in Andre Williams (153.6). If there was one area where the Tigers struggled last week in a blowout win over Syracuse, it was stopping the run. We don't anticipate the same mistakes this week. Boston College is better, but not good enough to beat Clemson.

AA's pick: Clemson 40, Boston College 13

HD’s pick: Clemson 42, Boston College 17


Georgia Tech (3-2) at BYU (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #GTvsBYU. The Jackets have lost two straight after starting 3-0 and now have to travel to play BYU, a team that embarrassed them last year in Atlanta 41-17. Georgia Tech did not score an offensive touchdown in that game. So far this season, Vad Lee has not done much since his terrific performance against Duke. Of the six turnovers the Jackets have had in their last two losses, Lee is responsible for five of them (three interceptions, two fumbles). Tough to see improvement this week against one of the better defenses this team will face all year. It's the third straight week Georgia Tech will play a defense ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in total D.

AA's pick: BYU 28, Georgia Tech 17

HD’s pick: BYU 35, Georgia Tech 28

ACC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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There were a few tweaks to the lineup this week. And congrats to Wake Forest, you got a promotion:

1. Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Tigers had no trouble playing in the Dome at Syracuse, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had another Heisman-worthy performance, throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns in just three quarters of a 49-14 win at Syracuse. Clemson faces a relentless Boston College team at home this week before the Oct. 19 showdown against Florida State.

2. Florida State (5-0, 3-0; LW: No. 2): The Seminoles’ defense was called into question this past week and it answered with a resounding 63-0 shutout of the Terps. It was a dominating performance in all facets of the game, and just what the Noles needed heading into their bye week as they begin preparing for Clemson.

3. Miami (5-0, 1-0; LW: No. 3): The Canes continue to find a way to win, and have established themselves as the team to beat in the Coastal Division. Miami’s 45-30 win over Georgia Tech sets the stage for a season-defining game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 9, but a Thursday night game against the struggling Tar Heels looms first. The Canes are on a bye this week.

4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0; LW: No. 5): The Hokies have now had two straight games in which quarterback Logan Thomas looked much-improved from a season ago, and it has made a difference. Virginia Tech's 27-17 win over North Carolina put the program back in the top 25 as it prepares to host Pitt his weekend.

5. Pitt (3-1, 2-1; LW: No. 6): The Panthers are coming off a bye week, but they’ve won three straight, including back-to-back conference games against Duke and Virginia. This will be their first road trip against a top-25 opponent, and while they’ve won the past four games in the series against Virginia Tech, they’re the ones with something to prove in Blacksburg.

6. Maryland (4-1, 0-1; LW: No. 4): The Terps came crashing back to reality with their humbling loss in Tallahassee, and they lost starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Maryland, but the schedule is conducive to a rebound if Maryland doesn’t let the Noles beat them twice. The Terps will face Virginia at home this weekend.

7. Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2; LW: No. 7): The Yellow Jackets started the season strong, but back-to-back Coastal Division losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have them on the outside looking in at the Coastal Division race. It’s not going to get any easier with a road trip to BYU this week, and starting quarterback Vad Lee has been inconsistent and turnover-prone.

8. NC State (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 8): The Pack just can’t seem to shake the curse of Winston-Salem, as NC State lost to Wake Forest for the sixth straight time on the road. It has been 12 years since NC State won at Wake Forest, and two turnovers contributed to it this season. The Pack returns home to host Syracuse this weekend.

9. Boston College (3-2, 1-1; LW: No. 9): Running back Andre Williams ran for 263 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-27 win over Army. The Eagles just don’t quit, and their ability to continuously run the ball through Williams has been their identity. They’re going to need more than that, though, to pull off the upset of No. 3-ranked Clemson this weekend in Death Valley.

10. Duke (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 11): The Blue Devils had a bye this week and are trying to string together back-to-back wins with another against Navy on Saturday. Having played Georgia Tech about a month ago should help the defense, considering they run similar option offenses.

11. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2; LW: No. 14): The Deacs finally got their offense going in a 28-13 win over NC State, thanks to quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. A little home-field advantage over the Pack never hurts, either. It was a big win that helped keep the Deacs’ bowl hopes alive. They’ve got a bye week to continue to get better before hosting Maryland.

12. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 10): The Orange had no answer for Tajh Boyd & Co., and they missed out on their own opportunities with mistakes like dropped passes, four turnovers and an inability to convert on third down. It wasn’t the introduction to the ACC Syracuse was hoping for, but the Orange has a chance to rebound this weekend at NC State.

13. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2; LW: No. 13): The Tar Heels have fallen far and fast, but we’d still pick ‘em to beat the Hoos right now, in spite of the fact they have the worst record in the ACC. The difference against the Hokies was three turnovers, and while backup quarterback Marquise Williams played a respectable game in place of injured starter Bryn Renner, it was his final pick in the fourth quarter that sealed it for Virginia Tech.

14. Virginia (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12): Virginia’s defense had been a highlight, until it allowed Ball State 506 yards. It lost 48-27 on Saturday to a MAC team -- at home. Virginia coach Mike London insisted this offseason that he’s not concerned about his job security, but it’s hard not to wonder if that sentiment has since changed.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
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The Week 5 slate has a handful of conference showdowns on tap, but the weekend figures to have its share of mismatches, too. Here are a few storylines to watch as the ACC closes out the season's first month:

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and the Yellow Jackets face a tough Virginia Tech defense on Thursday.
Vad Lee's big test: It's been a sterling start for the Georgia Tech QB, but the test gets much tougher this week. Lee has thrown seven touchdowns and rushed for three more through three games, and Georgia Tech's offense looks primed for a big season. But Virginia Tech's defense ranks among the nation's best thus far. The Hokies lead the ACC in rushing defense (96.5 yards per game) and have allowed just two passing plays of 25 yards or more through four weeks -- the two areas the Yellow Jackets have thrived. Georgia Tech took a big step toward establishing itself as a contender last week, but if Lee can find a way to break Virginia Tech's defensive stranglehold this week, the Yellow Jackets just might be the new favorite in the Coastal Division.

As Logan Thomas goes ...: The Hokies' offense has been brutal through four games, with Thomas shouldering the bulk of the criticism -- for good reason. He's completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes with just four TDs to go with six interceptions. But when Thomas is sharp, there's hope. On Tech's three scoring drives vs. Marshall last week, he was 10-of-13 for 106 yards. The rest of the game, he was just 8-of-10 for 75 yards. One key may be running Thomas more often. He had 23 rushing attempts against Marshall -- nearly double his total from the first three games combined.

Supporting the cause: As big as Georgia Tech's win over North Carolina last week was in the standings, it was the message Lee and others wore on wristbands designed to draw attention toward a push to reform NCAA regulations on player compensation and other issues. Coach Paul Johnson said this week that there should have been a team vote before any players took such a public stand, so it will be interesting to see if Tech's protesters take a step back or if more players -- both on the Yellow Jackets and around the nation -- step up to make a stand.

North Carolina's struggles: The Tar Heels figured to be at the top of the ACC's second tier this season, but they've hardly looked the part so far. UNC never really challenged South Carolina in a marquee nonconference opener, and the Heels blew a lead against Georgia Tech last week that puts them in an early hole in the division. Bryn Renner and the offense haven't been nearly as potent as the talent on the roster suggests, and the defense has struggled to stop the run all year. North Carolina tries to rebound against East Carolina this week, but the Pirates took Virginia Tech to the brink just two weeks ago and won't be a pushover.

More highlights from Crowder: In last week's loss, junior Jamison Crowder ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score -- the first time that feat had been accomplished at Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils' defense appears to be in complete disarray, but Crowder has injected enough life into the offense and special teams that Duke has at least remained competitive -- including last week's ferocious comeback attempt against Pitt. For the year, Crowder ranks among the ACC leaders in receptions (30), receiving yards (381), touchdowns (4) and all-purpose yards (668).

Keeping the faith at NC State: The Wolfpack nearly pulled the upset last week against Clemson, but concerns remain at quarterback, where Pete Thomas has yet to throw a TD pass this year. Still, NC State has kept itself afloat with a 2-1 start, and Brandon Mitchell could be back in a few weeks. The Wolfpack don't figure to be tested much against Central Michigan, and with a manageable schedule leading up to an Oct. 26 showdown against Florida State, Thomas simply needs to steady the ship and avoid catastrophe to keep NC State in the mix in the ACC.

Battle of the ground games: In the past 35 games, just four players have managed to exceed 100 yards on the ground against Florida State's defense. One of them is Boston College's Andre Williams, who is off to a strong start in 2013. He'll be the key to any potential BC upset, but the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their backfield, too. Devonta Freeman has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and ranks fourth in the nation in yards per carry. Offensive newcomer Karlos Williams has racked up 193 yards and three scores on just 17 carries so far. Overall, FSU ranks third in the country averaging 7.2 yards per rush so far this season.

Clemson building momentum: The general consensus after last week's near miss against NC State is that Clemson got lucky to escape with a win. A close call on what appeared to be a long touchdown for the Wolfpack was followed by a key turnover, swinging the momentum in a 26-14 Tigers win, but Tajh Boyd wasn't at his best and Clemson showed some vulnerability. The task against struggling Wake Forest this week will be to regain that air of invincibility, getting Boyd's Heisman campaign back on track and establishing that the Tigers are still the team to beat in the ACC.

Stephen Morris' health: The Miami quarterback left last week's blowout win over Savannah State early with a bone bruise in his right ankle, but he insists the injury isn't serious. He said he expects to be in the lineup when Miami takes on winless South Florida this week, and it could be a good chance for him to jump-start his season. While the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0 start, Morris is completing just 53 percent of his throws and has just four touchdowns to go with two INTs. USF's D hasn't been tested much through the air so far, but the unit figures to provide a bigger challenge than woeful Savannah State.

Pitt's O vs. Virginia's D: Aside from the blowout loss to Oregon -- a fate shared by many of the Ducks' opponents in recent years -- the Virginia defense has been solid, led by playmakers such as Eli Harold and Anthony Harris. But Virginia figures to be tested this week with an offense that might have playmakers to rival even Oregon's gaudy numbers. Pitt QB Tom Savage threw six touchdowns against Duke last week, while Devin Street, Tyler Boyd and James Conner all rank among the ACC's offensive leaders so far this season.

Georgia Tech needs team vote on reform

September, 24, 2013
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Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Monday that the players who wore wristbands with the letters APU -- for All Players United -- last week should have first given their teammates a chance to vote on the idea to support NCAA reform.

According to the Associated Press, Johnson said coaches and most players had no idea quarterback Vad Lee, linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and a few other players were wearing the letters APU -- for All Players United -- on wristbands in Saturday's 28-20 victory over North Carolina. Johnson says he first learned of the message after the game.

According to the report, senior defensive tackle Euclid Cummings said he doesn't expect the team to wear the letters on Thursday night against Virginia Tech.

Another bizarre day in the ACC

September, 21, 2013
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Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted reporters at his postgame news conference with quite an opening line.

"That was a bizarre game."

More like a bizarre Saturday in the crazy Coastal.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Gerry BroomePitt quarterback Tom Savage threw for six touchdowns and 424 yards in the win over Duke.
You thought North Carolina and Georgia Tech would repeat their high-scoring, record-setting game from last year? Nope. Duke and Pitt did their best to recreate that game in Durham, combining for 113 points and 1,130 yards of total offense in the Panthers' 58-55 victory.

What of Georgia Tech and North Carolina, you ask? Both defenses showed up today, but the North Carolina offense went missing after the second quarter as the Jackets reeled off the final 21 points to win 28-20 and jump to 3-0 on the season.

Then there was Virginia Tech. You want bizarre? A defense that held No. 1 Alabama to 212 yards of total offense gave up 21 points and 205 total yards in the FIRST HALF to Marshall before pitching a shutout the rest of the way in a 29-21 triple-overtime win.

Nothing ever seems to come easy in the ACC. Still, there were plenty of head-scratching moments for fans who have come to expect the unexpected.

They just so happened to play out in three early games going on at once, wearing out television remotes and Internet watchers toggling back and forth.

Let’s start with Pitt, Duke and this little nugget: Each quarterback -- Duke backup Brandon Connette and Pitt fifth-year senior/transfer Tom Savage -- had six touchdowns. Neither is known for his scoring proclivity. Pitt, in fact, went into the season with major questions on offense.

Savage had not taken a snap in three years, had questionable depth at running back and only one true playmaker in Devin Street. The defense, returning nine starters and a preseason awards candidate in Aaron Donald, was thought to be the strength.

But that is not how it is has played out for the Panthers this year. Against Duke, Savage made like Pitt great Dan Marino, tying an ACC record with a career-high six touchdown passes -- the first ACC QB to throw that many TDs in one game since 1999. Savage, mind you, had three touchdown passes to four interceptions and a mediocre Total QBR going into the game.

His performance may not have been the most impressive of the afternoon.

Freshman standout Tyler Boyd had 156 yards receiving and three touchdowns, while Street had a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns. The two have formed the best receiving tandem in the ACC to date. Running back James Conner had a career day, too, with 173 yards and a touchdown.

And yet, Pitt very nearly blew the game. After taking a 58-41 lead with 8:30 to go, Duke reeled off two touchdowns to close the gap to 58-55. But the Blue Devils could not recover the onside kick and were out of timeouts, and Pitt closed out the win. Jamison Crowder had a career-high 279 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort for Duke; Connette had four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, but he also threw a crucial pick-six that was one of the only defensive highlights for either team on the afternoon.

Both coaches had a hard time explaining what they saw unfold. Cutcliffe said, “I can’t really tell you too many more particulars until I study this game. There are so many bizarre parts to it.”

Plenty of bizarre parts to the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game, too. The Tar Heels moved the ball up and down on Georgia Tech with ease in the early going, reaching 20 points at the 9:18 mark of the second quarter. But they could not get any consistency on offense after that, and had the ball for only 7:39 in the entire second half. QB Bryn Renner had only five second-half completions.

There were several critical calls made by the officials that impacted the result, too. David Sims’ first touchdown run was reviewed after he appeared to lose the ball as he crossed the goal line. The call was upheld because the ball appeared to come out after he crossed the plane.

On another play, officials signaled that Vad Lee fumbled and North Carolina recovered. But it was overturned on review when it appeared Lee regained possession before his knee hit the ground. North Carolina had a costly penalty of its own, trailing 20-14, as a holding call negated an 82-yard touchdown pass from Renner to Ryan Switzer.

The North Carolina defense actually held its own, and did better than most anticipated. It was the offense -- the strength of this team -- that failed to do its part.

The offense failed in many ways for Virginia Tech, too. You might end up seeing that same line typed into blog posts for the remainder of the season. What was unexpected was the way Marshall kept the Virginia Tech defense on its heels for the first half.

The Herd used their fast pace to keep Virginia Tech off balance. Kyle Fuller, the most experienced cornerback in the secondary, gave up several big plays. The front had a hard time getting after quarterback Rakeem Cato. But it tightened up in the second half to keep Virginia Tech in the game.

Still, the Hokies were in serious danger of losing all the way up to the end. They tied the game with three minutes to go off a tipped pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Then, in -- what else? -- bizarre fashion, neither team scored in the first two overtimes. Virginia Tech, playing without suspended starting kicker Cody Journell, could not buy a field goal in a driving rain.

Logan Thomas finally got the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion -- Virginia Tech's first lead since the first quarter -- and the Hokies exhaled.

“Usually the flags are against us, the bounces are against us,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “But when you keep fighting, keep bringing the effort every single time, luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”

But for some reason in the ACC, bizarreness always seems to appear.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
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Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC during Week 4.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNC State seems to have a knack for celebrating big upsets, including last year's win over then-No. 3 FSU.
1. Upset city? Raleigh, N.C., has been the site of a huge national upset in each of the past two years. NC State topped then-No. 7 Clemson 37-13 in 2011, then shocked No. 3 Florida State 17-16 last year. The Wolfpack will have the nation's eyes watching them tonight when they host the No. 3 Tigers.

2. A couple of big conference games. Yes, this week's college football schedule is quite underwhelming, but the ACC has a rather nice lineup. The conference has three league games and every team but Boston College is playing this week, plus it has an intriguing nonconference matchup between West Virginia and Maryland.

3. Lee tries to keep it going through the air. Georgia Tech started its four-game division stretch on a strong note at Duke, and it will try to gain some early separation in the race Saturday against North Carolina. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes against the Blue Devils, and while matching that for a second straight week may be asking a lot, offensive fireworks figure to be the norm again in a rematch of a game the Yellow Jackets won last year by a 68-50 score.

4. Journell's rebound. Cody Journell missed two field goals and an extra point in Virginia Tech's five-point win at East Carolina. Credit the senior for owning his bad day afterward, vowing to never let it happen again. He had entered the contest 36-of-46 for his career, and he will look to get back on track Saturday against Marshall.

5. Option galore. Jim Grobe has said the option is here to stay at Wake Forest. Viewers will see plenty of it in Saturday's game either way, as the Demon Deacons travel to Army, looking to get back to .500 after two straight losses. The Black Knights are currently seventh in the nation in rushing, at 314 yards per game.

6. Hunt's chance to shine. Terrel Hunt took advantage of the extra snaps last week from Syracuse, completing 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three scores. He'll get his first career start this week against Tulane, looking to give the Orange a second straight win and get them back to .500 before they open their inaugural ACC slate a week later against Clemson.

7. FCS dark horses. Virginia hosts VMI, FSU hosts Bethune-Cookman and Miami hosts Savannah State. All three look like layups on the surface, but the FCS cannot be looked at as a complete afterthought given some of its early-season successes against the big boys of FBS. Let's not forget NC State's close call two weeks ago with Richmond, either.

8. Maryland CBs. Geno Smith isn't walking through that door for West Virginia, but the Terps will still have their work cut out for them against Ford Childress and the Mountaineers, as they are down starting corners Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle as they look to get to 4-0. Isaac Goins and Will Likely will get the starts.

9. Connette looks for first win. Brandon Connette's first start for Duke was so-so, as he went 15-for-28 for 122 yards as the Blue Devils struggled to move the ball against Georgia Tech. He returns home to face a Pitt team with an experienced secondary that is still looking to live up to big expectations after two games.

10. Pitt backfield looks to keep it up. The Panthers are going for ACC win No. 1, and they seem to finally have some semblance of a ground game after early-season questions. Converted end James Conner ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico, and Isaac Bennett tallied 101 yards and two scores himself. Duke gave up 344 yards on the ground last week against Georgia Tech, though the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense is nothing like Pitt's pro-style attack.

ACC predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
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We have a little separation in the ACC picks after Andrea went 7-1 last week and Heather went 6-2, missing on her upset special selection. Andrea is now 27-4 through three weeks, while Heather is 26-5. Let's see what Week 4 has in store.

Thursday

No. 3 Clemson (2-0) at NC State (2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsNCST. The Wolfpack have beaten Top 10 teams in consecutive seasons. That includes Clemson in 2011. But this NC State team has a new coach and a vastly different look on both offense and defense and is still adjusting, as a close call against Richmond showed a few weeks ago. Tajh Boyd, meanwhile, threw for 426 yards and five touchdown passes last year against a much more experienced Wolfpack secondary. To have a shot at another upset, NC State has got to pressure Boyd and get a near perfect game from quarterback Pete Thomas. The odds say the Clemson offense will be too much to handle again.

AA picks: Clemson 38, NC State 20

HD picks: Clemson 42, NC State 21

Saturday

North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0), noon, ESPN. #UNCvsGT. The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech, but that did little good last year, when they gave up 68 points in a high-scoring loss. The defense, without its best players from 2012, has not looked a whole lot better in two games so far this year. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has an added dimension on offense with the way Vad Lee has been able to pass the ball. Given those questions on defense, Georgia Tech gets the edge in this game.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 35, North Carolina 24

HD picks: Georgia Tech 38, North Carolina 28

Marshall (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1), noon, ESPNU. #MRSHvsVT. The Hokies are the type of team that will continue to win with a solid defense and an offense that does enough to get the job done. The offense showed signs of improvement last week against East Carolina, while the defense turned in another outstanding performance and shut down quarterback Shane Carden. Expect much of the same this week against another good quarterback in Rakeem Cato.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 23, Marshall 7

HD picks: Virginia Tech 17, Marshall 7

Wake Forest (1-2) at Army (1-2), noon, CBS Sports Network. This game is a toss-up, based mostly on the way Wake Forest has struggled on offense the last two games. What has been alarming has not only been an inability to run the football, but no sense of urgency on the sideline. The Deacs have to win this game with a tough stretch looming. In their matchup last year, Michael Campanaro had 184 yards of total offense and two rushers went over 100 yards on the ground. They will find enough offense to squeak by, even though the last two games point to continue struggles.

AA picks: Wake Forest 28, Army 27

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Army 20

Pitt (1-1, 0-1) at Duke (2-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsDUKE. The Panthers hit the road for the first time this season after a big win over New Mexico that featured some freshmen stars, including receiver Tyler Boyd. Duke, meanwhile, hopes to rebound after a tough loss to Georgia Tech. Coach David Cutcliffe expects Brandon Connette to play better in his second start but Pitt presents a tough challenge, particularly up front. Pitt needs to work on holding onto the ball if it is going to win -- six turnovers in two games is unacceptable.

AA picks: Pitt 27, Duke 20

HD picks: Pitt 28, Duke 24

Tulane (2-1) at Syracuse (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #TULNvsCUSE. The Orange finally picked up their first win of the season but it came against FCS Wagner. So we will see how many improvements they have made this week against Tulane, a much improved team already this season. Terrel Hunt gets the start at quarterback, hoping to build off a strong performance last week. Tulane is led by quarterback Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Expect Hunt to have another good game.

AA picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 17

HD picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 10

West Virginia (2-1) vs. Maryland (3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WVUvsMD. We had Maryland on upset watch this week, but feel confident the Terps will be able to beat the Mountaineers for the first time since the 2003 Gator Bowl. West Virginia has not developed the type of rhythm it wants on offense yet this season in two games against FBS competition. Ford Childress did show good signs last week against Georgia State, but this will be his first true test of the year. Maryland, meanwhile, has been much more effective on offense than West Virginia. This year, the C.J. Brown-Stefon Diggs combination will be too tough to stop.

AA picks: Maryland 33, West Virginia 27

HD picks: Maryland 27, West Virginia 21

VMI (1-2) at Virginia (1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #VMIvsUVA. The Hoos return to the field after a bye, hoping to improve their ground game. A key there will be getting quarterback David Watford more involved because of his ability to make plays in the open field. Coach Mike London also wants to get the downfield passing game working, too, as his receivers need to get more involved in the offense.

AA picks: Virginia 45, VMI 3

HD picks: Virginia 28, VMI 7

Bethune-Cookman (3-0) at No. 8 Florida State (2-0), 6 p.m., ESPN3. #BCUvsFSU. Coach Jimbo Fisher has played up what Bethune-Cookman has done so far this year -- an FCS ranking and win over FIU. But make no mistake, the Seminoles are not going to be tested much in this game.

AA picks: Florida State 55, Bethune-Cookman 3

HD picks: Florida State 62, Bethune-Cookman 0

Savannah State (1-2) at No. 16 Miami (2-0), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #SAVvsMIA. FCS punching bag Savannah State arrives in Miami to collect another paycheck, having given up 77 points to Georgia State and 66 to Troy earlier this season. The only thing left to wonder is how badly the Canes will beat this squad.

AA picks: Miami 60, Savannah State 3

HD picks: Miami 52, Savannah State 0
Vad Lee is under no delusions. He knows his coach, he knows what Paul Johnson preaches, and he knows the four touchdown passes he threw against Duke last week were an anomaly, not a cultural shift in Georgia Tech's offensive philosophy.

Still, Lee sees his success through the air as something of a reminder -- both to opponents and his coach. The triple-option offense isn't going anywhere, but with Lee at quarterback, Georgia Tech's playbook has a few extra wrinkles.

"People will see more of that this year," Lee said of his big passing day against Duke. "I'm not saying I'm going to throw four touchdowns every game, but I'm saying we have great playmakers at receiver, great running backs that set up play-action, and our line is pretty good."

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee rushed for 76 yards and a TD against Duke, but his 125 passing yards and four TDs stood out.
The personnel was assembled to run the option. That much hasn't changed. Through two games, 110 of Georgia Tech's 137 plays have been runs.

But if the bread and butter of the offense is the ground game, the success the Yellow Jackets have enjoyed on those other 27 plays at least make for a nice side dish.

"It's not something we put an emphasis on and hadn't put enough emphasis on in the past," Johnson said. "We always look out there and see how the defense is playing."

Duke left Georgia Tech with ample opportunity to chuck the football around, and Lee took advantage. His four touchdown throws in the Yellow Jackets' 38-14 win was the high-water mark for a quarterback since Johnson took over as head coach in 2008. Lee already has thrown six touchdown passes in two games -- halfway to the team's season total in 14 games last year.

Of course, there's never been much question about Lee's ability as a passer. The bigger surprise is that Lee has found a weapon on the receiving corps in an unexpected place.

Two of Lee's four touchdowns against Duke went to DeAndre Smelter, who has long since been a star athlete at Georgia Tech. The surprise, however, is that Smelter is making it big on the gridiron after spending his first three years with the Yellow Jackets as one of the top prospects on the baseball team.

Arm injuries dimmed Smelter's star on the baseball diamond, so this winter he decided he wanted to give football a try.

"I didn't want to go through college thinking I should've done this or that," Smelter said.

He met with Johnson before baseball season, and the two worked out a plan. Smelter worked on football conditioning during baseball season, spent the summer working with Lee and the other receivers during 7-on-7 drills, and by the time fall camp opened, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete looked like a natural.

"He's still learning as we go, but even in fall camp, I told everybody I had big expectations for him, as if he'd been playing forever," Lee said. "And he's just getting better."

The rapport is still a bit of a work in progress. Lee lamented a low throw he made against Duke that Smelter bobbled. Both players lacked precision on a play that might have gone for another touchdown.

That can't become habit, Lee said. Before the season began, Smelter and the other receivers made a list of goals. One of them read: "Have more opportunities through production." It's a mantra Lee is living by, too. He knows Johnson's offense is etched in stone, but if Lee and Smelter and the rest of the passing game make the most of their opportunities, they might carve out a new wrinkle.

In a surprising 68-50 win over North Carolina last year, Tech threw 12 passes, including one for a touchdown. Lee hopes that's just a starting point as the Yellow Jackets look to take command of the Coastal Division against UNC on Saturday.

"The main thing is gaining the trust," Lee said. "If we can execute and use our playmakers, and I get them the ball in space and let them make plays, there's definitely something that we're looking forward to. We're working to get even better at it, because we have a lot of room to improve."

ACC weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Week 3 in the ACC didn't have the same high-stakes fireworks as the first two, but there were still a few stories of note.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech's Vad Lee threw for four touchdown passes and ran for another score against Duke.
The good: Any worries Georgia Tech fans might have had about new starting quarterback Vad Lee should have been alleviated when the Durham, N.C., native torched his hometown team, throwing four touchdown passes and running for a fifth score in a 38-14 victory over Duke. Lee threw for 126 yards, ran for 76 more and directed the Yellow Jackets' option offense with precision. The four TD passes represented a single-game high in the Paul Johnson era at Georgia Tech, and Lee's six passing scores already have him halfway to last year's total of 12.

The bad: Riding the high of a two-game winning streak to start the season, Boston College was thinking upset when it headed west to take on a struggling USC team. The Eagles might be improved under new coach Steve Addazio, but they're not quite ready to play with the big boys. The Trojans' languishing offense found plenty of room to work in a 35-7 win, and BC's Chase Rettig completed just 11 of 24 passes in a homecoming game for the Southern California native.

The ugly: Head coach Jim Grobe was optimistic before the season. But three games in, things look awfully bad for Wake Forest. The Deacons lost their second game in a row -- 21-19 to Louisiana-Monroe after a failed two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter -- mustering just 15 yards on the ground in the game. Through three games, Wake Forest ranks 120th nationally at just 2.4 yards per rush.

The playmaker: Pittsburgh might not be quite ready to compete with the ACC's royalty, but the Panthers clearly have some skill on offense, led by freshman phenom Tyler Boyd. After racking up 151 all-purpose yards in Week 1 against Florida State, Boyd demolished New Mexico with a 33-yard TD run and a 34-yard TD reception. Overall, Boyd has averaged 20.4 yards every time he's touched the ball.

The rebound: Jameis Winston admitted he might have been a bit too excited for his home debut at Florida State and it showed. He opened the game 2-of-5 passing and threw his first career interception early in the second quarter. But Winston wasn't rattled by the struggles. He followed the pick by completing his final 13 passes and leading six consecutive touchdown drives in the Seminoles' blowout win over Nevada.

The rebound, part II: After two dismal weeks offensively, Syracuse finally got things going behind quarterback Terrel Hunt. Drew Allen struggled in Syracuse's first two games -- both losses -- and Scott Shafer announced he'd open up the competition. Hunt made a quick impression, completing 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three TDs in a 54-0 win over Wagner. What remains to be seen is whether Hunt can keep up the big numbers against better competition.

The homecoming: Randy Edsall helped usher Connecticut into the FBS as head coach of the Huskies, but he didn't do his former team many favors when he led Maryland back to his old stomping grounds. The Terps racked up 501 yards of offense and only three turnovers kept UConn in the game. Quarterback C.J. Brown gained more than 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games in the 32-21 Maryland victory.

The paradox: Virginia Tech's third game was a lot like its first. The good news was that the Hokies' defense looks legit. After an opening-drive TD, East Carolina managed just 129 yards the rest of the game and Virginia Tech forced three turnovers in a 15-10 victory. On the flip side, Logan Thomas and the offense continues to struggle. Tech had just 311 yards of its own, was 10-of-22 on third and fourth downs and averaged just 1.6 yards per rush. Meanwhile, kicker Cody Journell missed two field goals and a PAT.

The wake-up call: Duke might still get to six victories and bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season, but it seemed clear after Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech that the Blue Devils aren't quite ready to compete for a division title. Lee torched the Duke defense and quarterback Brandon Connette averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt in his first start since replacing the injured Anthony Boone.

The quote: "When I got out there, it was nothing but green grass." -- Florida State's Karlos Williams on the toss sweep that went for a 65-yard touchdown on his first career carry. He moved from safety to tailback last week.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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No movement at the top this week, just some reshuffling in the middle and at the bottom.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0, ACC last week: 1). The Tigers were off but remain the highest ranked ACC team in the national polls at No. 3. The first conference game of the year awaits Thursday at NC State. Clemson lost the last time it played in Raleigh.

2. Florida State (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 2). The Seminoles crushed Nevada this past weekend, rolling up 62 points on the Wolf Pack in another easy victory. They won't get much of a challenge this weekend, either, against FCS Bethune-Cookman.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 3). The Hurricanes enjoyed a bye week after their big win over Florida. We won't know much more about this team after this weekend, either, because Miami plays FCS Savannah State. Noles fans can fill you in on what to expect.

4. Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 4). Game 1 of a tough four-game Coastal stretch is in the books, and the Jackets looked good in beating up on Duke -- their 10th straight win in the series. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes, leaving us all wondering whether this is the year Georgia Tech can complement its rushing game with an above-average passing game.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 5). The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense. Now we'll see whether the added time was put to good use. Nobody has quite forgotten the defensive debacle that unfolded for both teams in their matchup last year.

6. Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 6). The Hokies squeaked out a victory over East Carolina, with yet another outstanding defensive effort. If they get performances like that every week, they will be a serious threat in the Coastal. Top D in the league and it's not even close.

7. Maryland (3-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 8). We moved the Terps ahead of Virginia this week thanks to their 3-0 start. It didn't look pretty at times against UConn, but they found a way to win. No, they haven't beaten anybody with a winning record yet, but they are unbeaten and that counts in these rankings, too.

8. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 7). The Hoos were off this past week after a blowout loss to Oregon and get VMI this Saturday. We won't know much more about this team until it plays at Pitt on Sept. 28.

9. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 10). The Wolfpack also were off this past weekend as they prepare to host Clemson. They are going to need a much better performance out of Pete Thomas to have any shot at another upset in the series.

10. Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 12). The Panthers completely dominated New Mexico and got standout performances from several freshmen, including Tyler Boyd and James Conner. They travel to Duke this weekend with a chance to even up their ACC record.

11. Duke (2-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 9). The Blue Devils could not muster enough offensively with backup quarterback Brandon Connette running the offense in a loss to Georgia Tech. There is no time to look back, because another important Coastal Division game against Pitt looms.

12. Boston College (2-1, 1-0 ACC, last week: 11). Heather thought the Eagles had a chance to pull the upset, but Lane Kiffin had everybody fooled. BC was unable to keep up with supremely talented USC and got beat soundly. The Eagles are off this week before facing another tough opponent -- Florida State on Sept. 28.

13. Syracuse (1-2, 0-0 ACC, last week: 14). The Orange are finally in the win column thanks to a blowout win over Wagner. Terrel Hunt looks like he is ready to run this offense. Syracuse gets a chance to even up its record Saturday against Tulane before opening conference play against Clemson on Oct. 5.

14. Wake Forest (1-2, 0-1 ACC, last week: 13). The Deacs are officially the biggest disappointment in the ACC after losing to ULM at home. What we can't figure out is how a team so laden with seniors, who vowed not to repeat the missteps from a year ago, is perhaps even worse than that 2012 group.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
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Here are your top five performers for Week 3 in the ACC:

Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee: Not only did he throw the ball, he beat Duke with his arm. Lee threw four touchdown passes -- the most in a game in the Paul Johnson era, and the most by a Jackets quarterback since Reggie Ball threw four against NC State in 2006. He also ran for another touchdown in the 38-14 win over Duke, was 8-of-16 for 125 yards and added 76 yards rushing. Georgia Tech rolled up 344 yards rushing and 469 total yards.

Virginia Tech CB Brandon Facyson: The true freshman has grown quickly into a star, as he picked off a pair of passes and made two tackles in the Hokies’ 15-10 win at East Carolina. The Hokies’ D was again the highlight, as Virginia Tech held ECU to just 158 yards passing and 204 yards of total offense. Facyson already has three interceptions this year, matching the most interceptions in a season by a Tech freshman since DeAngelo Hall had three interceptions in 12 games as a freshman in 2001. Coach Frank Beamer told reporters after the game that Facyson is “a baller.”

Pitt freshmen: The future is now at Pitt, where three freshmen made headlines in the Panthers’ 49-27 win over New Mexico on Saturday. Freshman James Conner had 119 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Freshman Tyler Boyd continued to impress with six catches for 134 yards, including with a 51-yarder early in the game and a 34-yard touchdown reception as time ran out in the first half. He also had two carries for 39 yards with a 33-yard touchdown run. Freshman tight end Scott Orndoff joined the party with a 4-yard touchdown.

Florida State’s running backs: Sure, it was another outstanding day for quarterback Jameis Winston in the 62-7 romp over Nevada, but let’s spread the love a little. Devonta Freeman ran nine times for 109 yards and a touchdown. James Wilder Jr. added 45 yards and a score. And the highlight? Former safety Karlos Williams, who moved to offense after the season opener against Pitt, ran eight times for 110 yards and a score. His 65-yard run early in the third quarter gave the Noles a comfortable 31-7 lead. FSU finished with 377 rushing yards -- just their third 300-plus yard rushing day since 2007.

Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle: McDougle finished with a personal-best two interceptions, including one he returned 49 yards for a touchdown to essentially seal the Terps' 32-21 win over UConn in Randy Edsall's homecoming. It was Maryland's first pick-six since November 2011. McDougle also led the team with seven solo tackles. Maryland now has six total interceptions on the season, two more than all of 2012. But there was some bad news, as McDougle left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.
Georgia Tech-Miami is the game that will define the ACC’s Coastal Division race this year.

Or maybe it’s Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech, as history tends to repeat itself.

Then again, Pittsburgh found a pulse again in Saturday’s 49-27 win over New Mexico, and North Carolina’s season didn’t end with the loss to South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee and Georgia Tech took a big step in the ACC Coastal Division race by whipping Duke on Saturday.
What we do know about the clustered Coastal Division after just three weeks: Georgia Tech’s 38-14 win over Duke on Saturday afternoon provided the first hint of any semblance of order in the division, and Miami’s upset of then-ranked No. 12 Florida last week was the most impressive win to date. A Jackets-Canes showdown to get to Charlotte is the popular pick right now, but none of these teams have played their best football yet. Miami can’t continue to go 1-for-11 on third downs, rush for 50 yards and win the division. Virginia Tech’s defense can’t score enough points off turnovers to keep up with the Tar Heels’ Fed Spread. Maybe it was the lackluster lineup in the ACC this week, or the fact that five teams had byes -- including ranked Clemson and Miami -- but the conference had a rather pedestrian look in Week 3.

Even Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, thought the Yellow Jackets left points on the field at Duke.

“I honestly thought I could play a lot better, to be honest with you,” said Lee, a native of Durham, N.C., who said he had about 50 friends and family members at the game. “I missed a couple of passes, I fumbled the ball once. Obviously those plays are sticking out more than the great plays, but I’m happy I was able to settle down in my hometown, get the ball rolling and score some touchdowns.”

So were his teammates. It's one down, three to go in what could be a season-defining four-week stretch for Georgia Tech, and in turn the entire division race. The win gave the Jackets positive momentum heading into next week’s game against North Carolina. With a much-needed bye week to prepare for the Jackets, though, North Carolina’s defense should give the Jackets their first true test of the season -- which is why a 2-0 start was so important to Georgia Tech.

“It’s great because our schedule doesn’t get easier from here, it gets harder,” Lee said. “We’re 1-0 in the league, and I’m excited to go get another North Carolina team next week. This will be the third one in a row. I’m excited to play them and try to get another win.”

The UNC-Georgia Tech game will be the headliner for the Coastal Division next week, followed by Pitt-Duke. We still don’t know the true identity of Pitt, which was down against Florida State and then up against a lesser opponent in New Mexico. It's likely the Panthers lie somewhere in between those two results.

We know the identity of the Hokies -- all defense -- but still can’t tell if it will be enough to get the program back to Charlotte. Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech looked like the best teams in the ACC in Week 3 -- along with Florida State, of course -- but Miami had a bye. The Hurricanes should remain ranked in the near future, as FCS Savannah State is the Canes' opponent next week.

Don't be surprised to see the Jackets joining them in the rankings at some point, though.

“I feel like we’re pretty good,” Lee said. “I think we’re a pretty good team. We work hard in practice; our chemistry is getting a lot better, especially in the receiving corps. We’re coming along in that aspect. We have great running backs, offensive line. I think we can be a pretty good offense if we put our minds to it. I think we could’ve played a lot better today, but this was a great win, and it’s great practice film. It’s great film to look at going into North Carolina.”

The ACC’s Atlantic Division gets the bulk of the spotlight because that’s the home of the league’s top-ranked teams, Clemson and Florida State. But the Coastal Division should have the more compelling race.

For now, Georgia Tech is one step ahead.

ACC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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The most anticipated post of Week 1 has finally arrived: Prediction time! Heather and I both got out our crystal balls and looked into the future. Here is what each of us sees for opening week in the ACC:

Thursday

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN. #UNCvsSC. The headliner in this game is Jadeveon Clowney, for obvious reasons. If North Carolina still had its offensive line from a year ago, I would like its chances in this game more. But with two redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line and a new starting running back, the Tar Heels have major questions at the two strongest positions on the team in 2012. Defensively, North Carolina is thin at linebacker, so that is a concern, along with replacing Sylvester Williams up front. Bryn Renner will be able to keep North Carolina in the game, but South Carolina will ultimately win because it is stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

AA picks: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 21

HD picks: South Carolina 24, North Carolina 21

Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PREvsWAKE. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe goes into the season needing four victories to become the all-time winningest coach in school history. After this game, that number should shrink to three. Presbyterian won only two games last season, so I am not sure how much of a challenge a bad FCS team will present. Still, a few things to keep an eye on: the Wake Forest running game -- both Josh Harris and the offensive line. How much more will Tanner Price be used in running situations? Wake has a big game in Week 2 against BC, so Grobe is going to want to see what he can build on.

AA picks: Wake Forest 50, Presbyterian 3

HD picks: Wake Forest 45, Presbyterian 10

Friday

FAU at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPNU. #FAUvsMIA. The Hurricanes open the season without a resolution from the NCAA. Shocking, right? But that should not be a distraction. The bigger distraction could be the "look-ahead factor," with Miami playing rival Florida the following week. FAU has a long way to go if it wants to compete with Miami. Simply put, this won't be much of a test for the Hurricanes. The talent gap is too wide. Coach Al Golden just has to make sure his team remains focused on FAU.

AA picks: Miami 45, FAU 10

HD picks: Miami 42, FAU 17

Saturday

Elon at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. #ELONvsGT. This is the schools' first meeting in football. It is not much of a matchup, either. Elon only won three games last year, so the Jackets should not have many problems in this game. They do have some injuries at a few spots, but with a bye the following week, Georgia Tech should be much healthier for its Sept. 14 game at Duke. It will be good to see how Vad Lee plays, what type of backs rotation Paul Johnson uses and how Ted Roof's new defense looks.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 3

HD picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 0

Villanova at Boston College, noon, ESPNews. #VILLvsBC. Coach Steve Addazio is pretty familiar with Villanova. When he was head coach at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the Owls opened the season against Villanova and won both games easily. This will be a good early test for the Eagles with Addazio in charge. First priority is to see how much better the offensive line and running game do. Second priority is to see more physicality from both sides of the ball. Both will be important, with the league opener against Wake Forest the following week.

AA picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 13

HD picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 17

FIU at Maryland (12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #FIUvsMD. Maryland has a very favorable nonconference schedule to open the season and kicks things off against an FIU team that took a big step back in 2012. The Panthers have a new head coach and only eight returning starters, to boot. Maryland, meanwhile, has a healthy C.J. Brown ready to open the season and the best player on the field in Stefon Diggs. Three keys to watch for the Terps: 1. How does the retooled offensive line hold up? 2. Will the running game be better? 3. How does the retooled defense with six new starters fare?

AA picks: Maryland 33, FIU 10

HD picks: Maryland 38, FIU 21

Louisiana Tech at NC State, 12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #LATECHvsNCST. The Dave Doeren era begins against one of the better teams from outside the power conferences a year ago. Louisiana Tech has a new coach in Skip Holtz and a first-year starting quarterback, but it also returns 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Dixon and defensive end IK Enemkpali, a first-team WAC selection a year ago. NC State has not named a starting quarterback yet, and running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for this one. Plus, the Wolfpack will have new offensive and defensive schemes and return only 11 starters. I expect for it to take some time to work out the kinks. Louisiana Tech upset Virginia a year ago, so this is not a team to overlook. This will be a good first test for Doeren.

AA picks: NC State 35, Louisiana Tech 24

HD picks: NC State 42, Louisiana Tech 7

Syracuse vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsPSU. Neither team plans on naming a starting quarterback going into this one, so the big unknown is who will be under center when the game kicks off. What is known is that Syracuse should have a powerful running game going into the season with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley. There are definite questions for the Orange not only at quarterback, but at receiver, offensive tackle and along the defensive line. But I like what coach Scott Shafer has preached so far. His team is going to be hard-nosed and physical, and I believe it will be able to eke out a very close win.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Penn State 21

HD picks: Penn State 31, Syracuse 21

BYU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #BYUvsUVA. There is no doubt the Cougars go into the game with a stout defense, led by outstanding linebacker Kyle Van Noy. But I am going with the Hoos in this game for a few reasons. First, they are at home and should have an advantage with BYU traveling from the Mountain time zone. Second, I think they will be a much more sound team on offense and defense. David Watford's mobility should help against the Cougars' D. Third, BYU has not been as good on offense in recently. If the Hoos can establish the run the way they did in 2011 and be more aggressive on D, they win. One more note: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all five of his openers. This will be his first as UVa coach against an FBS team.

AA picks: Virginia 21, BYU 20

HD picks: BYU 28, Virginia 21

NC Central at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN3. #NCCUvsDUKE. The Blue Devils should have a relatively easy time against NC Central, the way they did last season. What they want to see is how Anthony Boone plays in his first game as starting quarterback and what types of strides the defense has made since last season. Both are going to be big keys for Duke if it wants to get back to a bowl game.

AA picks: Duke 48, NC Central 13

HD picks: Duke 48, NC Central 10

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m., ESPN. #BAMAvsVT. A few months ago, I thought the Hokies might have a fighting chance in this game. But I just don't think they have the personnel to do so now that game week has arrived. Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, it is going to be tough sledding for Virginia Tech to score more than two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in America. If Virginia Tech finds a way to win, it will be because it was able to establish the run, control the clock and pressure AJ McCarron into mistakes. Not out of the question. But it appears improbable at this point.

AA picks: Alabama 31, Virginia Tech 13

HD picks: Alabama 45, Virginia Tech 20

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m., ABC. #UGAvsCLEM. The game of the year, or at least the game of the week, has finally arrived after months and months of buildup. We finally get to see whether the Tigers can continue the momentum they established in the bowl win over LSU last season. Georgia has a veteran quarterback and the best rushing duo in the country. How Clemson handles Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is the biggest key for an improving defense. But this is why Clemson wins the game: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and a veteran offensive line have the upper hand over a defense that only returns three starters, including just one up front.

AA picks: Clemson 35, Georgia 31

HD picks: Clemson 38, Georgia 35

Monday

No. 11 Florida State at Pitt, 8 p.m., ESPN. #FSUvsPITT. A big opening week concludes with a huge game for both teams. Pitt begins its first season in the ACC with a marquee opponent at home, while Florida State begins its quest for another ACC title with a freshman starting at quarterback. Heather put Florida State on preseason upset watch last month, but it's hard for me to see the Panthers pulling the upset for two reasons: 1. They are banged-up at running back and have no depth at the position. 2. Florida State has a big-time advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Pitt will give Florida State all it can handle, but the talent disparity is too wide for the Panthers to overcome in the opener.

AA picks: Florida State 27, Pitt 17

HD picks: Florida State 31, Pitt 21

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