ACC: Clemson Tigers

Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.

Planning for success: Clemson

October, 21, 2014
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At the outset of the season, Robert Smith joked that he felt a bit like the old man in a room full of rookies in Clemson’s secondary, but that was nearly two months ago. The unit has done a lot of growing up since then.

It’s partially Smith’s influence, of course. That’s the purview of the group’s elder statesman. The senior safety made a decision during the spring that his final season would be his best, and his work ethic would be the template for success. So he set the standard, and the young pups around him followed his lead.

“I was going to meet like a pro, talk like a pro, watch film like a pro, practice like a pro, do everything possible like a pro,” Smith said. “I wanted to set that example to the guys that, if you want to make it to the next level, don’t wait until then to mature.”

[+] EnlargeJayron Kearse, Elijah Hood
Bob Leverone/Associated PressSophomore safety Jayron Kearse is part of a young Clemson secondary that is improving rapidly.
For the Tigers’ defensive backs, it was less a demand than an opportunity. They’d been waiting for their chance to show they belonged.

A year ago, cornerback Mackensie Alexander was one of the top recruits in the nation, but injuries in fall camp left him with a redshirt. Safety Jayron Kearse was a bit luckier. He saw action and racked up 55 tackles and four interceptions as a freshman last season but couldn't secure a full-time spot in the starting lineup. T.J. Green, Korrin Wiggins, Jadar Johnson, Cordrea Tankersley -- they all got tastes of action but wanted more.

So Smith’s philosophy played well and as the 2014 season approached, the young DBs were eager to follow suit. The jobs were there for the taking; they just had to be ready.

“Just going through summer workouts with these guys, we always feel like we could contribute,” Kearse said. “We feel like we’re a good secondary, working to be great. We’ve been this way since we got here.”

Still, it was hard not to see the Clemson secondary as the weak link on a defense that features stars such as Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett. The front seven was chock full of proven commodities.

It was no surprise then that the season started a bit slower than Smith and the DBs might’ve liked. There was a feeling-out process, and that was expected.

“Everybody was getting their feet wet,” Smith said. “After a few games, you get in the flow.”

The unit got more comfortable working together, but it also took disaster for the entirety of the defense to pull together. That was the fallout of the Florida State game, when Clemson won battle after battle but still came up short.

After the game, the locker room was in mourning. The emotion was overwhelming, but also galvanizing.

“I’ve never seen so many men in the locker room cry so hard off a loss,” Smith said. “We played hard and to the best of our ability and let that one get away. So when you see your teammates hurt and crying, it makes you want to work that much harder, makes you want to do more. So I think our secondary looked at it and said we’re going to get better and progress from here.”

The progress has been obvious in the weeks since.

In three October games, Clemson’s pass defense has allowed opposing QBs to complete just 40.6 percent of their throws, the second-best mark in the country. Their October passer rating allowed is 102.4, the second-best mark in the ACC, trailing only Louisville. While that vaunted defensive front has created havoc at the line of scrimmage, the young DBs are coming into their own in the back end.

“We knew coming into the season we had the potential to be one of the best defenses in the country, and our front line was handling business, but we had a lot of young guys in the secondary and it took some time just to gel and get on the same page,” Smith said. “As soon as that happened, you could tell the difference and the cohesiveness has all come together and we’re starting to show the kind of defense we can be.”

Alexander always had the work ethic, Smith said, he just needed the experience. Kearse was always driven, he just needed to embrace the opportunity. And while no one is ignoring that ferocious defensive front, the kids in secondary are starting to get some attention, too.

“It takes time to understand the level of competitiveness at this stage,” Kearse said. “But now, it’s rewarding. They’re putting a lot on me and Mackenzie’s back, and we’re taking on the challenge.”

This week’s opponent, Syracuse, will start a freshman at QB, and that’s a frightening proposition against the Tigers. Smith said they won’t take anyone lightly, and Kearse compared Orange QB AJ Long to the QB the Tigers saw a week ago, Boston College’s Tyler Murphy, but even that praise doesn’t offer much hope for Syracuse. Murphy completed just nine balls, and BC was held to nearly 200 yards below its season average on the ground.

Kearse called the BC game a chance for a lot of the young defenders to grow up. It was proof they could play sound, assignment football against a dangerous opponent.

Now comes the next step, he said. They don’t want to take a backseat to the big boys up front, and they don’t want to hear that qualifier that, yes, they’re pretty good -- for freshmen and sophomores.

“We made it known we wanted to draw some of that attention to us, and we took that challenge,” Kearse said. “So far we’ve been doing it, but we have five more games to prove we’re one of the best defenses in the nation.”

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
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It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:

Clemson's Choice out with torn ligament

October, 20, 2014
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CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said leading running back Adam Choice is lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament, according to the Associated Press.

The 21st-ranked Tigers (5-2, 4-1 ACC) will also be without tight end Jordan Leggett for several weeks after he also suffered a knee injury. Swinney said both players were injured in last Saturday's 17-13 victory at Boston College.

Clemson faces Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday night.

Choice, a freshman, led Clemson with 218 yards and a touchdown. Swinney said Choice would need surgery in a couple of weeks to repair the ACL injury.

Swinney said Leggett tore his meniscus and sprained an MCL. He's caught 10 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

The coach did not provide any further details on the injuries, per athletic department policy.

Read more on this story.

By the numbers: Week 8 recap

October, 20, 2014
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Digging into some numbers from Week 8 in the ACC ...

Winston is the comeback kid

Amid all the off-field chaos, it's easy to forget how good Jameis Winston is on the field, and he's been particularly impressive when his team needs him most. Winston is awfully good at rallying his team. In the second-half comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday, Winston was a sterling 15-of-16 for 181 yards, leading two touchdown drives.

This is nothing new. While Winston hasn't been tested often, his numbers when playing from behind are off the charts. Since the start of last season, Winston has completed 81-of-109 passes (74 percent) for 1,104 yards (13.6 yards-per-attempt) with 12 touchdowns and one interception when FSU is trailing. That's absurd.

Winston also excelled against the blitz Saturday. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his throws, averaged 11.8 yards-per-attempt and tossed 21 TDs to just three picks vs. the blitz, but to start this season, his YPA dropped to 8.1 and he had just three TDs on 54 attempts. Against the Irish, however, Winston was 9-of-11 for 113 yards with two TDs and no picks when facing the blitz.

Noles' ground game struggling

On Saturday, FSU mustered just 50 yards on 26 rushing attempts -- a dismal 1.92 YPC. Last season, FSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush, but it has yet to hit that mark in any game against an FBS foe this season.

It's not all on the tailbacks, however. The biggest difference appears to be the O-line.

.

FSU's runners are averaging roughly the exact same number of yards after first contact as they did in the previous two seasons, but they're getting more than two yards-per-carry less before contact than they did in 2012.

Boyd and nothing else

Pitt toppled Virginia Tech on Thursday despite QB Chad Voytik completing just 10 passes (on 17 attempts). What's perhaps even more noteworthy about Pitt's passing game, however, is that the only wide receiver to catch a pass was Tyler Boyd, who had six receptions on nine targets.

That's hardly a surprise. For the season, Boyd has 34 catches against FBS teams. The rest of Pitt's receiving corps has 22.

Overall, Boyd has accounted for 41.4 percent of Pitt's targets and 49.7 percent of its receiving yards vs. FBS foes -- both the highest rates in the nation.

Clemson stuffs the run

Remember in the opener when Todd Gurley ran all over Clemson's defense? Georgia racked up 328 rushing yards and five TDs on 41 carries. It was ugly.

Since then, however, the Tigers have surrendered just 395 more yards in six games. Clemson is allowing just 2.0 yards-per-carry since the opener, the best rate in the nation. Against Boston College on Saturday, it held the Eagles to nearly 200 yards below their season rushing average, and the Tigers racked up 14 tackles for loss. It was the fourth time in the last six games Clemson has had double-digit TFLs, and since that opening game against UGA, no defense in the country has created a higher percentage of negative rushing plays than Clemson's (36.5 percent).

Marquise the magician

For the second straight week, North Carolina QB Marquise Williams was terrific. Williams enjoyed his third 300-yard game of the season (Winston is the only other ACC QB with as many), chucking four TD passes and adding a fifth score -- along with 70 rushing yards -- on the ground in a win against Georgia Tech.

It's the second straight game Williams had 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and at least three total touchdowns. In the past decade, the only other Power 5 conference QB to do that in back-to-back games was Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.

Heels, Jackets struggle on D

Entering Saturday's game, the only Power 5 conference team allowing more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech (6.3) and North Carolina (6.2) was South Carolina (6.35), so it was no surprise that the two defenses coughed up 1,190 yards and 91 points when they faced off.

For Georgia Tech, it's the continuation of a downward trend. In Ted Roof's first eight games against FBS teams as Tech's defensive coordinator, the Yellow Jackets allowed 5.5 yards-per-play and held five opponents below 101 yards rushing. In his last nine, opponents have rushed for an average of 173 yards per game and are averaging 6.5 yards-per-play overall, good for 115th in the nation in that span.

But things are even worse for the Tar Heels. In the last decade, just five Power 5 conference teams have allowed more yards in their first seven games than UNC (3,659) and only four have allowed more touchdowns (40).

Quick hitters
  • Entering the game, Virginia QBs were completing 63 percent of their throws to wide receivers this season, but against Duke, the Hoos completed just 45 percent. Matt Johns targeted wideouts on 70.2 percent of his throws in the game — the second-highest percentage of throws to WRs for Virginia quarterbacks this season. Cavaliers wideouts haven't caught a touchdown pass in their past three games after hauling in six in the first four.
  • Johns did hit running back Khalek Shepherd for a passing touchdown. It was just the third one Duke has allowed this season. Only San Jose State and Ole Miss have allowed a lower rate of touchdown throws in the nation.
  • Ryan Switzer in 13 games last season: 32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs. Switzer in seven games this season: 34 catches, 429 yards, three TDs.
  • The two highest completion percentages for Power 5 wideouts (min. 30 targets) reside in the ACC, and both are true freshmen: Clemson's Artavis Scott (38 catches on 46 targets) and NC State's Bo Hines (28 catches on 35 targets).
  • UNC's defense has struggled, but it has also been opportunistic. The Heels have 80 points off turnovers this year, the third-best total in the country. On the flip side, the Heels have allowed 77 points off turnovers, the second-worst total in the country.
There is a simple bit of clarity confronting the ACC and Florida State eight weeks into the season: Perfection seems the only way to get the Seminoles into the College Football Playoff.

No other Power 5 program will be held to such a standard. But no other Power 5 conference has its reputation in a sinkhole the way the ACC does. That is why it was so important for Florida State to beat Notre Dame on Saturday. As long as the Noles keep winning, they are assured of a spot in the top four. But lose? Florida State may as well be playing in Conference USA. That is how little respect the ACC has nationally right now.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston was fired up after Saturday's victory over Notre Dame, but the Noles will have to keep winning if they hope to make the playoff.
Just look at the most recent AP and coaches Top 25 polls. While the College Football Playoff selection committee will put together its own rankings next week, it is instructive to look at how the media and coaches perceive the ACC -- outside Florida State.

Because the league as a whole is what will drag Florida State down if the Noles lose a game.

Besides Florida State, the ACC has only one ranked team. In the AP poll, Clemson (5-2) is No. 21 behind two other two-loss teams: Oklahoma and USC. Reigning Coastal champion Duke (6-1) cannot even crack the Top 25 after back-to-back victories over ACC teams with winning records. East Carolina (5-1), with wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina, is ranked No. 18.

Duke and Minnesota are the only 6-1 teams from Power 5 conferences that are unranked. That fact not only speaks to their status as “non-football powers,” but to the idea that their respective leagues are weak. The Big Ten has been panned for its mediocrity this season. But the ACC ranks lower than the Big Ten in the ESPN.com conference power rankings, sitting last among the Power 5 conferences.

Everything we heard during media days about the ACC being stronger? Everything we heard about the ACC gaining more respect since it boasted the national champion? False propaganda. As it turns out, an ACC world with the reigning national champion does not look much different.

Florida State is still alone holding the flag, while Clemson is a distant second. It is hard for a program to fight off the weak-conference stigma when it does not beat its most difficult opponents (Clemson) or play anybody tough out of conference (Duke).

Clemson lost to two Top 10 teams this season -- to Georgia and Florida State. Both teams were ranked higher than the Tigers at the time they played. Yet Oklahoma lost to two teams ranked lower (TCU and Kansas State) and is still four spots higher than Clemson in the AP poll.

These are the ingrained notions that follow programs around, no matter what they do. Clemson “chokes” and the ACC is constantly disrespected. Put them both together and you get critics completely dismissing Florida State’s win over the Tigers earlier this season.

Falling flat nationally hurts, too. While ACC teams like Virginia Tech, Boston College and Florida State have big wins over then-Top 10 opponents, the league also has some head-scratching losses to Colorado State, Akron and ULM. Plus, there were blown opportunities against UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa and Maryland.

So essentially, Florida State gets no lifelines from its conference foes. Even a beefed-up nonconference schedule has not engendered much goodwill from the rest of the country.

Funny to think that before the season started, many believed a one-loss Florida State team would survive and make it into the College Football Playoff based on a strength of schedule that looked much better than it did last season.

As it stands today, Florida State is on pace to play fewer ranked teams than it played in 2013. Right now, the Noles have two ranked teams behind them and none remaining. Last season, they played four Top 25 teams at the time of the matchup (two of them ended the season unranked).

Four of Florida State's remaining five games are against teams with winning records. But nobody wants to hear that going to Louisville and Miami won’t be easy; that Virginia is vastly improved; that Boston College gave the Noles fits last season. Florida State will be expected to win them all.

That’s really the only way the Noles can guarantee themselves a spot in the playoff.

Once again, Florida State is on its own.

ACC morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
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The last thing Clemson needed was more bad news on offense, but that's exactly what was in store Sunday.

The Tigers' leading rusher, freshman Adam Choice, is done for the season with a knee injury, as the Charleston Post & Courier writes.

Choice suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win against Boston College, adding more grim news to a running game that has struggled to find any footing this season. Through seven games, Choice was Clemson's leading rusher with 218 yards and also averaged a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.

Choice actually would have redshirted this season, but he was thrust into the tailback mix when Zac Brooks went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Choice's injury leaves the trio of Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard to pick up the slack in the Tigers' backfield.

In fairness, the bulk of Choice's production this year came against South Carolina State. Against FBS foes, he's carried 38 times for 144 yards -- an average of 3.8 per carry -- good for 38th among ACC tailbacks.

Still, his replacements don't offer much alternative. Howard, Davidson and Gallman have averaged a woeful 3.6 yards-per-carry against FBS foes and just seven of their 113 rushes (6 percent) went for 10 yards or more. Add the fact the Tigers will be without dual-threat QB Deshaun Watson for at least another few weeks, and the offensive struggles of the past two games don't seem like they'll diminish any time soon.

A few more links:

Jameis Winston is a near lock to enter the NFL draft, according to CBS Sports. Well, yeah. Of course. The whole “will he or won't he” discussion has been silly for a while, and when I spoke with Winston's father, Antonor, in August, he said the talk about returning was entirely dependent on Jameis' draft status. And that was before all the new off-field chaos.

Matthew Thomas, who had been suspended for the first half of the season, added some much-needed athleticism to Florida State's defense, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Georgia Tech's defense was a complete disaster against North Carolina, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Virginia Tech is shaking up its offensive line after another ugly offensive performance against Pitt, writes the Roanoke Times.

More from the Roanoke Times: Matt Johns should've run more often against Duke, according to Virginia coach Mike London.

Marquise Williams has been tremendous over the past two games, including leading a comeback win for North Carolina on Saturday, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After A.J. Long led Syracuse to a much-needed win over Wake Forest, is Terrel Hunt still the starting QB when he's healthy? It's an interesting question, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke Johnson has been a crucial mentor in the development of fellow Miami tailback Joseph Yearby, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

ACC bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The win over Notre Dame certainly wasn’t the final piece to Florida State’s playoff puzzle, but it was clearly the biggest hurdle the Seminoles had remaining on the schedule. That has secured FSU’s spot in our postseason projections, but for now, we’re still predicting the Irish will get a bowl game shot at another ACC power.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Virginia
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Georgia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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Video: No. 24 Clemson 17, BC 13

October, 18, 2014
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video 
C.J. Davidson's 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the difference in Clemson's 17-13 win over Boston College.

ACC mailbag

October, 17, 2014
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Since the ACC Black Cat has nearly jinxed all of you, I am doing my best to reverse the fortunes of the ACC by (temporarily) seizing control of the mailbag.

Anonymous Eagle from California writes: Boston College total rushing yards allowed: 599. Clemson total rushing yards allowed: 603. Seems pretty even to me. And with Clemson’s main QB out with an injury, Clemson might have to depend more on the run. That Louisville game was messy. BC has issues -- they dominated USC then completely failed to contain Colorado State -- but I think this game will be a lot closer than everyone thinks.

Shanker: OK, so you’re really not asking a question Anonymous Eagle, but your analysis that 599 and 603 are “pretty even” is an accurate assessment. I agree the game will be close, but I’m not sure anyone sees this as a blowout with the Tigers reeling from the loss of star freshman Deshaun Watson. This is obviously an entirely different team with Cole Stoudt at quarterback, and I’m not sure anyone would be shocked if Boston College, a five-point home underdog, pulled off the upset. The Clemson rushing attack has been ineffective much of the season, and now the Eagles will be able to load the box, although they still need to do so at their own peril as the Tigers are loaded at receiver. However, Boston College is one dimensional on offense, too, which means Clemson can also focus on just stopping Tyler Murphy as a runner and daring him to throw. You can talk about rushing numbers all you want, but this game probably comes down to which quarterback can make enough plays through the air. And enough plays might mean just one or two.




Jeff Miller from Perry, Georgia, writes: What are Georgia Tech’s chances of winning the Coastal?

Shanker: I’d say very good, it is probably in the second-best position to win the division. The loss to Duke is a real buzz kill, though. With wins against Virginia Tech and Miami the previous two weeks, the Yellow Jackets were putting some distance between them and some of the other Coastal contenders. Now Duke owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and the Blue Devils' schedule is soft. I’ll spell it: s-o-f-capital T ... sofT. If they clear these next two games against Virginia at home and at Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find another loss on their schedule. Pitt’s schedule sets up nicely, too, but the Panthers are not convincing anyone they are legitimate contenders yet. Miami has to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday, at Virginia and against No. 2 Florida State. Though Virginia might be the best Coastal team, it’s an uphill battle for the Cavs to clinch a berth in the ACC title game with road games against Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech, plus a home game against Miami to end the season.




Tyler from Athens, Georgia, writes: Hey, Andrea, I was wondering if this could be the year, even with the struggles on offense, that the Hokies get back to 10 wins?

Shanker: I’m not Andrea, which is bad news for the Hokies. Stick with me here. Virginia Tech is 4-3 after Thursday’s loss and needs to win out and either play in and win the conference championship, or their bowl game. With a decently tough second half of the schedule (by ACC standards) and a conference title game almost certainly against FSU, the odds are the Hokies don’t get 10 wins. Alas, if Andrea was answering this question, she certainly would say Virginia Tech won't get 10 wins, thus Black Cat-ting that prediction and causing Virginia Tech to win out.

But seriously, there was an outside chance if Virginia Tech beat Pittsburgh, but now the best they can finish the regular season with is nine wins. I think best-case scenario is they close out the regular season at 4-1, which still puts them at 8-4 going into a bowl game as the odds of making it to Charlotte are slimming by the week.




Wayne from Tallahassee, Florida, writes: Andrea, I think your black cat is worse than HD's Kiss of Death. Please no black cat for my Noles this weekend..........PLEASE!!!!!

Shanker: The Black Cat nickname actually originated in the press box of the Clemson-Florida State game, and it took an all-time Clemsoning effort for the Seminoles to stave off the curse that night. So far the Seminoles have been impervious to the Black Cat spell, but Notre Dame could be the toughest opponent they face all season. If Florida State loses, though, it won’t be because of Andrea, although feel free to blame her.

It’s a pseudo cop out to say this game comes down to turnovers, because a lot of games do, but it is especially key Saturday given the recent history of the teams. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is making critical mistakes that are either costing his team points or directly putting points on the board for the opponent. Though the Seminoles’ defense has been susceptible to big plays and a lot of yards, they squeezed Syracuse in the red zone last week. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has had a few costly turnovers this season, too, and Florida State’s defense is not good enough this season to continuously bail out an offense that puts it in a bad situation. The Seminoles have been great at doing that so far this season -- colleague David Hale with a stat that has their defense allowing just three touchdowns on drives beginning in their zone -- but it’s not the kind of situational football FSU coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
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Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
8:00
AM ET
Remember the ACC’s preseason media poll? OK, we don’t blame you for ignoring it. That was probably a good idea.

In any case, here’s how the Coastal votes stacked up:
1. Miami
2. Duke
3. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Georgia Tech
6. Pittsburgh
7. Virginia

Those top four teams all received at least 23 first-place votes (Tech got 1, Pitt got 2, Virginia got none). And after Thursday’s Virginia Tech loss to Pitt, three of those top four teams now have two losses in conference play already. On Saturday, Virginia has a chance to complete the foursome by beating Duke, while securing its spot atop the Coastal Division. And this is why we shouldn’t make preseason predictions.

On the field, Pitt looked significantly better than it had in its previous three games -- all losses. Chad Voytik wasn’t great in the passing game -- 10-of-17 for 92 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, while not completing a ball to a wideout other than Tyler Boyd -- but he more than made up for it with his legs. Voytik ran 17 times for 135 yards (not counting sacks), including a 49-yard run that set up the Panthers’ decisive touchdown.

That’s been a trend for the Hokies’ defense this season. In six games against FBS teams, Virginia Tech has allowed four quarterbacks to run for at least 120 yards. Non-QB runs against Tech are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, but quarterbacks (not including sacks) are averaging 7.8 yards per carry this season.

What was clear from Thursday’s game is that the Hokies have a lot of troubles at the moment, but with Tyler Murphy and Anthony Boone still on the schedule down the road, this is one that needs to get fixed quickly.

A few more links:

ACC Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
10:35
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Adelson: Pitt has not done much of anything right during its three-game losing streak, but the Panthers are facing an opponent that has some issues of its own headed into this game. Virginia Tech is banged up at running back and will rely on J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb to carry the load. So essentially, the Hokies are down to their fourth and fifth options. That bodes well for the Pitt defense, which has had issues stopping the run. Without an effective run game, Virginia Tech will have a tough time offensively. While the Hokies have a formidable defensive front, James Conner and Tyler Boyd will make enough plays to scramble up the Coastal again. Plus, Virginia Tech is 0-3 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh 24, Virginia Tech 23

Hale: The story for the Hokies remains the same every week: Don't screw it up. The Virginia Tech defense has been prone to big plays, but during its three-game losing streak Pitt has had just 12 plays of 20 yards or more (85th nationally during that span). Virginia Tech's offense hasn't been terrific, but it's been effective when avoiding turnovers. Among ACC teams, only Boston College has created fewer takeaways than Pitt. In other words, it's a good matchup for Virginia Tech to avoid disaster, and with a bye week to iron out a few kinks the Hokies should be at their best. The wild card, however, could be the ground games. Tech is down two of its top three runners, while Pitt features the ACC's rushing leader in Conner. He'd been struggling of late after a heavy early workload, but last week's bye came at the right time. Still, Virginia Tech has allowed just 412 yards to opposing running backs this season, the sixth-lowest total in the nation. Virginia Tech 27, Pittsburgh 24

Adelson: In a battle between two true freshman quarterbacks and uninspiring offenses, I am going with the defense that has made more plays over the course of the season. The nod goes to Wake Forest by a hair. The Deacs have played well enough defensively to stay in every game but the Florida State contest this season, and they will play well enough at home against Syracuse to score the game-winning points. Wake Forest 13, Syracuse 10

Fortuna: It's AJ Long time for Syracuse, and the freshman will feel all the more comfortable in Winston-Salem after debuting last week against the defending national champions. The Orange's stout front should be able to have its way against Wake Forest's offensive line, as the Deacs have surrendered 24 sacks this season. Wake's defense will give the home team a chance, but it will likely need more than that to get an ACC win. Syracuse 23, Wake Forest 10

Hale: Here's how the season has gone in the Coastal: A favorite emerges, then loses, then is brushed aside by the prognosticators in favor of another trendy team that's bound to lose, too. Last week, it was the Yellow Jackets that were the Coastal darlings, and they fell to Duke, a team that had been swept aside after its own dismal game against Miami. The struggles against Duke were largely Georgia Tech's own doing. For just the second time all season, the Yellow Jackets coughed up the football multiple times, and it cost them. If they can avoid those mistakes against North Carolina and keep their offense on the field, they should have a distinct advantage. The Tar Heels are young along the defensive line and lack significant depth. Tech can run the option, control time of possession to keep UNC's explosive offense off the field, then wear down the Heels' defense in the second half. As Duke showed last week, one loss in the Coastal hardly means a team is done. Georgia Tech 42, North Carolina 38

Shanker: Although the offense received a lot of help from Notre Dame last week, the Tar Heels showed some fight and nearly pulled off the upset. That has to count for something, right? Plus, Georgia Tech is coming off a loss to Duke that would have given the Yellow Jackets a vice grip on the ACC Coastal with a game against Virginia looking like the last tough intra-division game. Let's be honest, I'm grasping at straws. But for some reason I see the Heels winning. North Carolina 38, Georgia Tech 24

Shanker: It's easy to see the circus once again around Florida State and expect the Seminoles to come out flat or distracted, but that's never been the case the past year. The more scrutiny on Jameis Winston, the better he usually performs. I do think it will take its toll a little bit this time, but it's not entirely the reason Florida State edges out a close win. Notre Dame is better than people give it credit for, and if Everett Golson limits turnovers, the Irish are a much harder team to beat. Winston has turned the ball over at critical times, too, and if that continues against Notre Dame, it could end up haunting the Seminoles this time. As we've seen through the first six games, though, the Seminoles know how to win and once again they'll find a way Saturday. Florida State 38, Notre Dame 35

Fortuna: Assuming Winston plays, FSU's offense is simply, as Brian Kelly said last week, another animal compared to what Notre Dame has faced so far. Rashad Greene won bowl MVP honors against the Irish as a freshman three years ago, and the Noles' record-holder should have another big day against a secondary down one more body in fifth-year senior and captain Austin Collinsworth. Golson, provided he avoids the turnover bug of recent weeks, will keep the Irish in the game, but FSU has more offensive firepower, giving the home team the edge in this shootout. Florida State 44, Notre Dame 30

Other unanimous picks

Virginia at Duke: The key for Virginia is at the line of scrimmage. After a slow start to the season, the Hoos have averaged 224 yards per game on the ground in their past three. They'll need to be able to run the ball to beat Duke -- something Georgia Tech struggled with a week ago. More importantly, however, Virginia's ferocious defensive front needs to attack the Blue Devils' offensive line. Slow down Duke's ground game and rattle Anthony Boone into some mistakes and, for one week at least, the new trendy pick for the Coastal can survive. Virginia 24, Duke 17

Clemson at Boston College: Tyler Murphy has been exceptional running BC's option attack this season, but he's yet to face a front as good as Clemson's. After their opening-week struggles against Todd Gurley and Georgia, the Tigers have allowed just one running play of 20 yards or more (a garbage time 40-yard run by South Carolina State) and have surrendered just 275 yards total on the ground, the fewest in the nation. Clemson 24, Boston College 10

NC State at Louisville: It's hard not to feel a little bad for the Wolfpack. This game ends a four-week stretch in which they got Florida State (with Winston fresh off a suspension), Clemson (with a healthy and poised Deshaun Watson) and Boston College (coming off a bye week). Now, the scuffling State offense runs into the buzz saw that is Louisville's top-ranked D. Oh, and the Cardinals are poised to get star receiver DeVante Parker back from injury this week, too. The Wolfpack will end their ACC losing streak soon, but not this week. Louisville 20, NC State 10

Current standings
Shanker: 44-7
Adelson: 41-10
Fortuna: 41-10
Hale: 41-10

ACC morning links

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
8:00
AM ET
Florida State reinstated linebacker Matthew Thomas, and it’s a move that could have a significant impact on Saturday night’s top-five showdown between No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 2 Florida State (8 p.m. ET ABC).

It’s unlikely Thomas receives a starting bid, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher has been waiting to get back a player like Thomas, who was a five-star recruit in the 2013 class. Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whose been hurt most of 2014, bring an athleticism to a group that has lacked it at times.

When Eligwe returned for the Wake Forest game earlier this month, Fisher estimated Eligwe could get anywhere from 20-40 snaps. For a player with the physical gifts the 6-foot-3, 218-pound redshirt freshman possesses, that is more than enough time for Thomas to make an impact.

Last week, Fisher made mention of Thomas’ ability to rush the passer. Through six games the Seminoles have rarely made the opposing quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket with a pass rush. Fisher said FSU is working on getting to the quarterback, and Thomas could be one of the solutions.

Here’s a few more links for your Thursday:

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