ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
This wasn’t how Willie Byrn wanted his career at Virginia Tech to end, but in a way, maybe it was a relief.

The season opened with lofty goals, but after a 4-5 start and a series of demoralizing losses, nearly all those goals the Hokies had set this summer had evaporated, and what was left was a three-game stretch that offered little beyond a potential bowl bid and a chance to simply keep playing football. For Byrn, that was enough.

“There’s kind of an energy,” Byrn said. “All the scenarios are out the window, and what we’re thinking about is letting go, having fun and really focusing on getting better. It’s not about that one place to get at the end of the season, but just taking it day by day. I think when you do that, it takes the pressure off.”

Maybe it was that ability to get back to basics, or maybe it was simply the talent on Virginia Tech’s defense playing to its full potential, but the recipe worked. The Hokies upended Duke on Saturday for their second road win of the season over a ranked team, and with a win this week against Wake Forest, the Hokies will go bowling for the 22nd straight season.

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWhile the season hasn't gone the way Willie Byrn (82) had hoped, Virginia Tech still has its eyes on a bowl game.
The scenarios are similar at Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Both schools opened the season with high hopes and spent time in the AP Top 25 in September. But those early expectations faded quickly and both teams are now teetering on the brink of bowl eligibility.

At Virginia, too, simply getting to six wins means something. The Cavaliers were hardly Coastal Division darlings to open the season, but at the time of their first bye week, they stood atop the division and Mike London looked like a coach of the year candidate. Now, with two games left, Virginia needs to win out to extend its season.

A conference crown or a New Year’s Day bowl are out of the question in Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh and Blacksburg, but there’s still an emphasis on making these final two weeks of the season count for something.

“Since I’ve been playing football, I’ve gone to a championship game or beyond the regular season,” Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We’ve been practicing all year to get to a bigger stage. So at the end of the year, I always want to continue, and I feel like the other guys want to be a part of what I’m trying to do. We’re striving for what we want.”

Pitt has lost six of its last seven games after starting the year 3-0, and for Boyd, it’s been tough to diagnose the problems. He’s been outstanding, topping 120 receiving yards in three straight games — all Pitt losses. Figuring out what’s gone wrong and finding a recipe for redemption is better done now, Boyd said, than waiting for next year.

“It’s hurt me, and it’s hurt others, but I don’t really know what it is that we’re not able to finish these games out,” Boyd said. “But guys are going to continue to work on their craft and get better. We’re still working on trying to find ways to win those close games.”

At North Carolina, the goals are twofold. The Tar Heels are trying to make a bowl, but they also wrap up with games against Duke and NC State — the team’s two biggest rivals. But like 2013, UNC also has a chance to erase a lot of bad memories by finishing on a high note.

A year ago, North Carolina opened the season 1-5 and was left for dead. It wrapped up the year by winning six of seven, however, and that was a major reason so many pundits liked the Heels to win the Coastal in 2014. That, of course, didn’t happen, but quarterback Marquise Williams wants to rewrite that familiar script.

“When people think things are not going so good, we look back at last year and say, 'Hey, we were in the same predicament, so why can’t we do it two years in a row?'" Williams said. “There are things we wish hadn’t happened and we wish there was a different outcome, but we’re where we are right now and we just want to finish these two games strong and hopefully we can be remembered as the best team in November.”

Virginia’s scenario stands in stark contrast to the struggles at North Carolina. Six weeks ago, the Hoos were the toast of the Coastal, with a narrow loss to UCLA and a win over Louisville inspiring hope that maybe all the talent on the roster would finally lead to a winning season.

Instead, UVa has lost four straight and it now must beat Miami and rival Virginia Tech to get bowl eligible and, possibly, to save London’s job. Beating Miami will be tough, but that final weekend against the Hokies is the biggest domino. Virginia hasn’t beaten Tech in 11 years, and the senior class knows its legacy can be written in Blacksburg.

“That’s the one game guys are ready for no matter what,” safety Anthony Harris said. “It’s a game players and coaches and fans remember. To have an opportunity to get bowl eligible with a win against your rival is always a plus.”

Whether it’s getting a win over a rival, making a bowl or simply finishing on a positive note, with two weeks left in the regular season, motivation isn’t entirely hard to come by for the also-rans of the ACC. It’s just about finding it in the right spots.

“Things don’t get better unless you take initiative and continue to fight,” Harris said. “We started off well, and we want to finish strong and get as many wins as we can. The message for the young guys is to keep fighting. We’re all playing for something different, but also something similar, which is to make the most of what’s in front of us.”

ACC Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Fortuna: Can Duke handle its first Thursday night game? Can it withstand the very real target on its back that has come from beating UNC two years in a row? Can it clean up its offensive miscues from this past week against Virginia Tech? That last question will matter most Thursday, as the Blue Devils will have to score plenty of points to keep up with QB Marquise Williams and the Heels offense. Turnovers will be key for Duke's defense, but here's guessing that Williams rebounds and delivers after throwing the game-sealing pick in last year's game. UNC 35, Duke 30

Hale: Saturday’s loss was a tough one for the Blue Devils, but it was hardly a game in which Duke was outplayed. David Cutcliffe's team has thrived all season by getting all the little things right -- but against Virginia Tech, Duke looked like a different team. So what’s more likely to happen: Duke falls apart again in a must-win game or it reverts to its status as one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country? I’m betting on the latter, but I don’t need a leap of faith to get there. The biggest difference against the Hokies was a ferocious Virginia Tech pass rush, and UNC doesn’t bring anything close to that caliber of defense to the table. Anthony Boone will have time to throw, Jamison Crowder will find space downfield, and the Duke running game should have room to run. Duke has no choice but to get a win here, and Cutcliffe will have his team ready to get it done. Duke 31, North Carolina 27

Adelson: There is one stat that illustrates why Louisville will win: Everett Golson has 19 total turnovers in his past seven games. The Louisville defense has forced 25 turnovers this season, one of the best marks in the country. And Golson will be playing with a bum shoulder. So the focus has to be on whether Golson can finally start taking care of the football the way he did earlier in the season, something coach Brian Kelly has stated publicly for weeks now. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional overtime loss; Louisville had a bye to prepare. The Cards are not going to be intimidated, either, having played in big-time atmospheres over the past several years. Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24

Fortuna: Notre Dame was not as good as its 6-0 start indicated. But it's not as bad as this current slump indicates, either. Saturday against Northwestern was the perfect storm of miscues that left the Irish vulnerable to defeat. And while the defense remains banged up, there are some talented newcomers who have slowly grown into their roles. Golson, for all of his giveaways, remains a dynamic quarterback, one who was on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion as recently as two weeks ago. If he can protect the ball -- and if the Irish can go through field goals without any pre-kick issues -- Notre Dame has enough talent to resemble the offense of a month ago and withstand the Cardinals' pressure up front. Notre Dame 31, Louisville 25

Unanimous selections

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: The Hokies believe the upset of Duke last week will spur a late-season rally, and the good news is Wake Forest should help boost that push. Virginia Tech should become bowl eligible after this game as it is hard to see the Demon Deacons' offense doing enough to beat the Hokies. Virginia Tech 21, Wake Forest 7

Syracuse at Pittsburgh: It has been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who are fighting to make a bowl game. The Panthers have two of the conference's best offensive players in James Conner and Tyler Boyd, and it will be tough for Syracuse and its struggling offense to match the production of those two. The Panthers defense should get a bit of a break this week after allowing 147 points in their past three games. Pitt 34, Syracuse 24

Boston College at Florida State: Boston College has the ability to annoy and potentially upset FSU because of the Eagles' ground attack and stout defense. However, Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles are physically ready for the Eagles. It would not be a shock if this game was close -- every FSU game is -- but at this point no one has been able to beat the Noles and that should continue. Florida State 27, Boston College 17

Georgia State at Clemson: The Tigers are playing Georgia State, which is 1-9 with all nine losses coming in a row. No matter who plays quarterback for Clemson, this should be an easy win. Clemson 49, Georgia State 0

Miami at Virginia: The Canes are reeling after a devastating loss to Florida State, and there certainly could be a hangover. The loss proved how far Miami has come and how talented the Canes are, though, and they should be able to beat Virginia. But don't count out the Cavaliers. The defense is good and the offense is getting better. They also had an extra week to prepare and need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Miami 24, Virginia 20

Current standings
Shanker: 63-16
Adelson: 62-17
Fortuna: 61-18
Hale: 61-18

ACC morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
If Clemson coach Dabo Swinney goes to Florida, it might force Steve Spurrier to retire. How would the Ol' Ball Coach handle Swinney, the preferred target of Spurrier's snipes, becoming the coach at the school where Spurrier won a Heisman and national title?

All joking aside, The Clemson Insider is reporting Swinney is on the short list of Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, although Swinney said he has not spoken to anyone at Florida.

At the very least, it certainly makes sense Swinney's name would at least be brought up, whether in the media or behind closed doors in Gainesville, Florida. He's eliminated much of the underachieving stigma at Clemson, where the fan base expects conference championships and New Year's Day bowl games. He cut his teeth as an offensive assistant and had some of the country's top offenses at Clemson. Defensively, Swinney has coached some poor units but credit him for making a great hire in Brent Venables and turning it around. Clemson ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense.

From a recruiting standpoint, there are not many better recruiters than Swinney, who is only 45. Clemson's 2015 class is ranked No. 3, and Swinney told reporters he's putting together "the best recruiting class we have ever had." That is saying something, too, considering he pulled Deshaun Watson out of the SEC's backyard last cycle and has signed a top-15 class the last four years.

Despite Clemson's campus being six hours from the Florida border, Swinney has been wildly successful recruiting the state. Four Floridians ranked in the ESPN 300 are committed to Clemson, and since 2011 he has received 15 four-star commitments from Florida prospects. Sammy Watkins was one of them.

Of course, with two games left and an Orange Bowl berth still a possibility -- the program's third in four seasons -- Swinney is not entertaining any questions about his name being linked to Florida.

"We are not even going to acknowledge that kind of stuff," he told reporters. "Ya'll know I love Clemson.

"We will see how it all pans out, but that is where our focus is -- great finish, great bowl game, great recruiting class and build Clemson into a College Football Playoff team so we can get to where we want to be."

Breathe easy, Spurrier.

ACC Show: Week 13 replay

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they get into the Week 13 schedule, the Coastal race and Florida State's lack of national respect. They'll also answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene said he does not “entertain the foolishness” of the selection committee’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Foolish might be a strong word for the rankings, which once again placed Florida State at No. 3, but they are questionable. It’s not limited to just Florida State either, but the Seminoles are one of the lightning rods through the first few weeks.

Committee chairman Jeff Long offered several different reasons as to why teams are ranked where they are, which underscores one of the biggest issues with the rankings: There are no parameters or guidelines for the committee to follow.

Opining on FSU’s ranking is equivalent to returning to the stable each Wednesday to beat a dead horse, so we’ll relent. But at some point, game control needs to take a back seat to game, set, match. Most coaches would prefer come-from-behind wins against a schedule with 11 Power 5 schools rather than superior statistical measures.

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (or whoever is tasked with his Facebook statuses) argued the Seminoles are doing what every coach preaches all year: finish.

“How many times have you heard a Coach say," We didn't finish"? Coaches harp on it continuously,” the post stated. “… Every team in the Top Ten failed to 'finish' their game at least one time, but not Florida State . One thing they have done is 'finish' the game.They have 'finished' 10 straight times this season and the last 26 games in a row.”

Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson remains ranked despite a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in which it lost starting quarterback Deshaun Watson again. It appears the committee rightfully took that into consideration, especially since the hope is Watson will return again this season as he rehabs a sprained knee.

Clemson is a legitimate Top 25 team when it has its star freshman, although he has struggled to remain healthy. This is the third significant injury Watson has suffered since the spring. The Tigers were once again strong defensively against Georgia Tech, as the score belies their effort because of two Cole Stoudt pick sixes.

Louisville is also back in the rankings at No. 24 but Duke dropped out, and Georgia Tech moved up to No. 18. All four ACC teams are rightfully ranked.

ACC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
NC State wrapped up bowl eligibility this week, and Virginia Tech can do the same Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s still some drama left as UNC, Pitt and Virginia scramble for more wins and the shuffle for a spot in the Orange Bowl remains chaotic. Here’s where we’re at in the ACC as of now.

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

Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC’s bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

* Bowl eligible

ACC morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
We’re nearing awards season -- two ACC tight ends were announced as Mackey Award finalists on Monday -- so, of course, the talk turns to the Heisman Trophy.

There’s still plenty of debate over who deserves to win the award, but the Orlando Sentinel notes that it’s unlikely Jameis Winston will repeat.

Winston's off-field issues -- his code of conduct hearing with Florida State has been postponed to Dec. 2 -- are likely to turn off many voters, and his 11 interceptions and declining touchdown totals certainly will disqualify him from a few more ballots.

In ESPN’s latest Heisman watch, Winston checks in at No. 7 -- behind another ACC name, Miami’s Duke Johnson.

That ranking certainly begs a more interesting question than whether Winston will win: Will he even get an invite to New York?

Since the Heisman Trophy began in 1935, only three winners returned for the following season and didn’t finish in the top 5 in voting: Ohio State’s Vic Janowicz in 1951, Navy’s Roger Staubach in 1964 and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2009. It’s worth noting, too, that it was an injury that kept Bradford from New York -- not performance.

So could Winston become the first healthy returnee to finish outside the top five in 50 years?

If Florida State finishes undefeated, Winston might still earn his trip. He’s obviously gone to battle with a weaker supporting cast this season, his passing yardage is actually up from last season, and he’s been exceptional in leading the Seminoles back from big deficits -- a narrative that might have a less controversial QB as the Heisman frontrunner in most years.

It’s also worth noting that, in the past decade, no Power 5 team that was undefeated leading up to the Heisman presentation failed to have a representative in New York City.

Of course, if there’s one thing we can probably all agree on regarding Winston, it’s that there isn’t too much in the way of precedent. He’s a unique talent and a unique character -- for better or worse. So in his case, history might not be much of a guide.

A few more links for your Tuesday reading ...

By the numbers: Week 12 recap

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
Just two weeks left in the regular season, and the conference's top performers are finishing strong. Here's a look at some of the key numbers from Week 12.

ACC's top QB: Thomas or Winston?

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas may be the biggest reason the Yellow Jackets appear so rejuvenated in 2014. His 15 touchdown passes are the most by a Tech QB since 2006. His 827 rushing yards lead Tech and are the third-most by a QB there in the past decade. His 18.6 yards-per-completion leads the nation and his TD/attempt rate of 10.3 percent trails only J.T. Barrett and Marcus Mariota. Thomas' Adjusted QBR of 83.9 is sixth nationally and tops in the ACC.

So, perhaps it's worth asking the question: Who is the first-team All-ACC QB this year?

Jameis Winston is responsible for more yards because he throws more often, but Thomas has coughed up six fewer turnovers. Thomas plays in a bit safer offense, too, and Winston has had to work with a lot of youngsters around him.

But here are a few more numbers worth noting: Thomas leads the ACC in QBR on third/fourth down (96.2) and is second nationally. Winston is second in the ACC at 83.8. Thomas also leads the ACC in QBR when tied or trailing (71.7) while Winston is fifth (65.0). But change that to tied or trailing in the second half, and Winston leads the way (86.7) while Thomas is fourth (57.3).

Of course, the best answer to the debate could well come in Charlotte on Dec. 6.

Florida State's magic acts

In the last eight games, Florida State has had 110 offensive drives, of which 65 percent came when tied or trailing. And yet the Seminoles are 8-0 in those games. It's pretty amazing.

For the season, Florida State has now recovered from three different deficits of 15 or more points (vs. Miami, Louisville and NC State). According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Seminoles are the first team to do that in three different games in the same season since UCLA did so in 2005.

So the obvious conclusion is that FSU is flawed but resilient, right? That's possibly fair, but keep this in mind, too: No team in the country has dominated the second halves of games more than Florida State (average margin of +12.4 points). It's just those first halves when the Seminoles struggle.

Pitt's dynamic duo

Pittsburgh might be the ACC's biggest disappointment this year, but you can't blame Tyler Boyd or James Conner. The duo has combined for 1,040 yards of offense in the last three games -- and Pitt has lost all three.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner has topped 200 rushing in each of his past two games, yet the Panthers have lost both.
Conner has actually gone over 200 yards rushing in each of his past two games, becoming just the eighth running back in the last decade to do so in back-to-back games against Power 5 teams. Surprisingly, he's not the first to lose both of those games. Washington State's Jerome Harrison endured the same ignominious feat in 2005.

Conner had four rushing touchdowns against UNC on Saturday, and as Pitt SID E.J. Broghetti notes, Conner now has 21 on the year -- tied for the ACC's all-time mark with two games left to play. Conner has also scored three or more times on the ground in three straight games. In the past decade, only two other players have longer streaks: Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs (5 straight in 2013) and Stanford's Toby Gerhart (4 straight in 2009).

In the last decade, the only other Power 5 player to lose a game with 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns also came from the ACC: Clemson's C.J. Spiller in 2009 vs. Georgia Tech (courtesy ESPN Stats & Info).

Boyd, meanwhile, topped 120 receiving yards for the third straight game, and he ranks second in the ACC in receiving yards with 951. With another 49 yards, he'll top the 1,000 mark in each of his first two seasons. In the last decade, only two other players from AQ schools topped 1,000 receiving yards as both a true freshman and sophomore (USC's Marqise Lee and Washington State's Marquess Wilson).

Dayes is all-purpose star

Matt Dayes had a huge game against Wake Forest scoring three times to propel NC State to bowl eligibility. For the season, Dayes now has 469 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground, 303 receiving yards and five TDs through the air, plus another 379 yards returning kicks.

Dayes is one of just two players in the country to top 300 yards in rushing, receiving and returns this year, but he's the only player with 300-plus yards rushing and receiving along with five or more TDs rushing and receiving.

That dual-threat stat (300/300 and 5/5) is something just 12 other AQ-conference players have done in the past decade, and some of the names are worth noting: Todd Gurley, De'Anthony Thomas, Giovanni Bernard, Montee Ball, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray, Brian Leonard and Percy Harvin. Not bad company for NC State's sophomore tailback.

Quick hitters

  • Duke ran 46 of its 82 plays Saturday in Virginia Tech territory, but came away with just one touchdown. In its two losses, Duke has two touchdowns on just two of 18 drives into opponent territory. In its eight wins, Duke scores 50 percent of the time it crosses midfield.
  • From ESPN Stats & Info: Georgia Tech has won four straight ACC games by 20 points or more. That ties the second-longest streak in the conference in the last decade.
  • Duke Johnson topped 90 yards rushing for the 12th straight game. In the last decade, only two other Power 5 running backs have had longer streaks.
  • FSU running back Dalvin Cook is averaging 10.7 yards-per-rush when the Seminoles are trailing.
  • North Carolina is the only team in the country to have scored 40 points in five different games and also allowed 40 points in five different games.
  • More from ESPN Stats & Info: Brad Kaaya was 5-of-6 for 150 yards and two touchdowns against FSU's blitz in the first half Saturday. He was 1-of-6 for 9 yards against the blitz in the second half.
  • Both Kaaya and Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer saw extended streaks without an INT end last week. That leaves the ACC's longest active streak of passes without a pick in the hands of Chad Voytik (66).
  • Oddly, the Hokies are now 5-2 in games when Brewer throws an interception and 0-3 when he doesn't.
  • Three of the top six Power 5 quarterbacks in non-sack rushing yards reside in the ACC. Tyler Murphy (1,117) is first, Thomas (881) is fourth and Marquise Williams (763) is sixth. Voytik ranks 12th with 527 and Jacoby Brissett is 13th with 517.
  • Georgia Tech failed to score a rushing touchdown in a game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2012 in a loss to BYU. The last time Tech didn't rush for a TD and still won was a 24-20 victory over Wake Forest in 2010.

ACC morning links: The case for FSU

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
Florida State returned to the top of both the AP and Coaches polls, writes the Sporting News.

In ESPN’s Power Rankings, the Seminoles remain No. 2, now behind Alabama, which knocked off the committee’s previous No. 1 team, Mississippi State, on Saturday.

When the committee announces its rankings on Tuesday, Florida State could be anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3, which should make for some interesting debate.

On one hand, FSU remains unbeaten -- which is something neither Alabama nor Oregon can boast. For that matter, only Marshall can also make that claim.

But after Saturday’s games, the Seminoles officially have zero wins over currently ranked teams, and the fact that so many of those games involved FSU struggling to play catch-up, the argument against putting Jimbo Fisher’s crew at the top of the polls makes some sense.

In margin of victory versus FBS teams, FSU (13.1) falls well behind Alabama (19.2) and Oregon (17.9).

In opponent winning percentage, FSU (.573) is again well behind its competitors (Alabama’s is .621, Oregon’s is .647).

Using ESPN’s Football Power Index, FSU is actually seventh, with Alabama at No. 1 and Oregon at No. 2.

But of course, there’s a lot of context that goes into these debates, too. Oregon, for example, has a whopping +15 turnover margin, which accounts for much of its additional scoring. Its yardage margin mirrors FSU almost exactly. And while Alabama burnishes its scoring margin with a 59-0 thumping of Texas A&M, in its other seven games versus Power 5 opponents, it’s average margin of victory is just 7.4 -- or just about half that of FSU’s margin against Power 5 foes.

In other words, FSU’s case largely depends on how deeply the committee wants to look and what stats it values most. The important thing for the Seminoles is that they keep winning, which if they can continue for three more games, will put them in the playoffs.

More Monday links:

FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey is emerging as a legitimate star, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Rod Johnson’s quick progress at left tackle has allowed Florida State to tweak its biggest offensive weakness, writes Tomahawk Nation.

Boston College is a huge underdog against Florida State this week, notes BC Interruption.

Really great news for Clemson: Deshaun Watson’s knee injury isn’t serious, and he won’t miss the rest of the season.

North Carolina has been resilient this year, and now the Tar Heels are in good position for a bowl game, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

The running back woes continue for Virginia Tech, but credit the Hokies for a gutty performance that has relieved a lot of stress in Blacksburg, writes The Roanoke Times.

Georgia Tech climbed into the top 20 in both the AP and Coaches polls after a big win over Clemson writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pitt’s season may be going south, but James Conner is showing no signs of slowing down, writes the Pittsburgh Tribune.

NC State defensive end Kentavius Street went down with a leg injury on Saturday, but he says he’ll be back for the UNC game, writes Backing the Pack.

Bowl eligibility means NC State met its minimum expectations, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

Duke needs to quickly turn its attention to North Carolina, writes The Herald-Sun.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
It was another wild weekend in the ACC. Here are our takeaways from it:

The road still goes through FSU. This time the deficit was 16, on two separate occassions. No matter. Dalvin Cook's late touchdown clinched a 30-26 FSU win in Miami -- its 26th straight win and its fifth straight victory over the rival Hurricanes. Mississippi State fell at Alabama, which leaves the Seminoles as the lone unbeateen Power 5 team. Say what you want about their style, but the Noles are taking care of business, with just Boston College and Florida left before the ACC title game, in which they clinched a berth earlier Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDalvin Cook's 26-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter completed Florida State's comeback.
Clemson can't catch a break at QB. In his first game back since breaking a bone in his right hand, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a knee injury, the severity of which is unknown. Coach Dabo Swinney said ligament damage is a possibility, which would be a crushing blow to the freshman sensation. Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions in Watson's place, including two pick-sixes, and the Tigers managed just 190 total yards of offense in the 28-6 loss.

Georgia Tech continues to shock us all. Who saw this coming? The Yellow Jackets routed Clemson to get their fourth straight win and improved to 9-2 on the season before their season finale against rival Georgia. They finish 6-2 in ACC play and have a shot at the ACC title after Duke's loss at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils are 4-2 in league play and will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they win out.

NC State is going bowling. The Wolfpack ran away from Wake Forest early and notched a 42-13 victory that got them bowl-eligible for the fourth time in five years and the first time under second-year coach Dave Doeren. Matt Dayes tallied 113 total yards from scrimmage to lead the way.

Virginia Tech, UNC keep bowl hopes alive. The Hokies notched an upset at No. 21 Duke 17-16 to get to win No. 5 with two games remaining, at Wake Forest and vs. Virginia. Say what you want about the performance of the program this season, but it could not afford to see its bowl-game streak end. It probably won't now, after forcing three turnovers from a Blue Devils team that had been so sharp at protecting the ball. UNC got to the five-win mark as well, thanks to more late-game theatrics from Marquise Williams and T.J. Logan, who dealt Pitt a tough 40-35 loss.
The slim playoff hopes for Duke are officially extinct after Virginia Tech went on the road and toppled a top-25 team for the second time this season, upending the Blue Devils 17-16.

How the game was won: Takeaways and run defense for Virginia Tech. Duke entered the game with just six turnovers, tied for the fewest in the nation, but the Hokies forced quarterback Anthony Boone into numerous mistakes. His two interceptions turned into 10 points for Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, a Duke ground game that led the way in the first quarter (121 yards on 17 carries) disappeared the rest of the way, and with Boone struggling, the Blue Devils simply couldn’t get anything going. It wasn’t exactly a banner day for the Virginia Tech defense, but when it mattered most, the Hokies made all the plays. And when Duke had one final chance to take the lead with a 40-yard field goal with 2:33 left, the ball sailed wide left.

Game ball goes to: Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Duke’s offense hasn’t struggled often, but Foster has managed to give the Blue Devils fits again and again. Virginia Tech made some fantastic in-game adjustments to shut down the running game, added four sacks in the second half (Duke had allowed just four all season), and Foster once again will haunt Boone’s dreams. In four games against the Hokies, Boone completed just 40 percent of his throws, with no passing TDs and seven interceptions. Kyshoen Jarrett finished the game with 13 tackles, and Dadi Nicolas had two sacks.

What it means: The Hokies entered the game teetering on the brink of missing a bowl game for the first time in 22 years, but now they simply need a win next week against Wake Forest to get to six victories. Ironically, two of those victories for the struggling Hokies have come on the road against top-20 teams. Duke, on the other hand, saw its slim playoff hopes disappear and its Coastal Division title hopes take a hit.

Playoff implication: The ACC’s playoff hopes are now officially down to Florida State. Duke was an unlikely player anyway, despite its one-loss status. But those hopes are definitively gone now after Ross Martin missed two field goals and the Blue Devils’ offense stalled again and again deep in Virginia Tech territory.

Best play: Foster brought the pressure on Duke on the final three plays of the game, and Detrick Bonner's sack on third down helped push the Blue Devils into an impossible fourth-down scenario. Boone's last pass on fourth down was a throwaway, and the Hokies secured the What's next: Virginia Tech heads to Wake Forest in hopes of securing bowl eligibility with a win against a Demon Deacons team that has yet to win an ACC game. Duke's Coastal hopes (and Orange Bowl hopes) remain alive despite the loss, but a win against North Carolina on a short week is now crucial.

ACC mailblog

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
It’s Friday, so let’s dig into the mailbag to see what burning ACC questions you’ve got for us...

Nick in Fort Lauderdale writes: Could an undefeated Florida State actually get left out of the playoffs? … I can see Mississippi State staying in the top four with a loss to Alabama. If the committee will jump Oregon over an undefeated FSU, then why not TCU, and that could push FSU out of the top four altogether.

David Hale: I just don’t buy that talk. Credibility is going to be a concern for the committee in Year 1 for obvious reasons, and leaving out a defending national champ without a loss just seems like it would undermine so much of what the playoff was created to accomplish. I agree with you that a loss might doom FSU’s season, but until that happens, I think the Seminoles are safe. Besides, TCU’s remaining schedule is atrocious, so if the Horned Frogs were going to jump Florida State, it would’ve had to have happened already.

Vinny writes: FSU has always tried to rotate D-linemen, but it seems they aren’t using guys like [Justin] Justin Shanks and [Keith] Keith Bryant as much. Matchup? Scheme? Injuries? Also, do you think Mario Edwards would be more effective from the tackle spot?

David Hale: Scheme has a lot to do with this. When Mark Stoops left for Kentucky, the defensive scheme changed a lot, and the Seminoles have worked so much in nickel packages this year, we’re seeing a lot fewer snaps for the down linemen. Add the fact that you have two stars in Edwards and Eddie Goldman, and the drop-off in talent for those rotations is much more noticeable. With the injuries and inexperience at linebacker, keeping those guys on the field is paramount. Shanks was also banged up early in the year and hasn’t quite recovered that playing time, while Bryant perhaps hasn’t developed quite as quickly as Derrick Nnadi and Desmond Hollin. As for Edwards, he's such a mismatch where he is because of his size-speed combination. I think that's the best spot for him.

Steve in New Jersey writes: Can you tell me what is going wrong with my Hokies? Is it the talent? Bad Coaching? Bad playing? Or all the above?

David Hale: It’s a lot of factors — as it almost always is when a program declines steeply — which makes it harder to isolate one thing that needs to change. I think Virginia Tech has a lot more talent this year than the last few, and I’d credit Frank Beamer for giving so much playing time to young players. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in those scenarios, but in the long run, it will be a big benefit for the Hokies.

Beyond that though, I think there are two big concerns: The first is injuries. Virginia Tech has been devastated by them this year, and the hope should be that the bad luck evens out in 2015. The second is the offensive line, which has been a massive disappointment throughout the last few years. The run-blocking has been really bad, and without a steady run game, the Hokies are going to have a tough time getting back to 10 wins. The recruiting philosophy has shifted a bit and Stacy Searels is a good coach, but that part will take some time.

Dave in VT Land writes: So, it looks like the alphabetical listing of the Coastal Division teams is turning out to be the most accurate prediction! Who'd have thought?

David Hale: Akron is applying for Coastal Division membership as we speak… (And the Zips already have a win over Pitt!)

Jon in Atlanta writes: I cannot say enough on how surprised I am to see Georgia Tech with seven wins. Early in the season, I would have laughed if 7-8 wins this season was even mentioned. With a really good recruiting class coming in, how good do you see GT getting down the road?

David Hale: I’m not sure any team in the country has exceeded my expectations as much as Georgia Tech this season. There were just so many areas of concern entering the season, and to Paul Johnson’s credit, he’s found ways of plugging all of those holes. The D isn’t good, and that remains a big concern, but the offensive philosophy makes up for that in a lot of ways, and Justin Thomas has really added that missing element to the option. The other big knock on Johnson in recent years has been recruiting, and as you said, even that is starting to change. It’s really tough for longtime coaches to turn the tide when a program starts going south (see: Virginia Tech) but Johnson has done a splendid job of it this year.

David Hale: I’ll be surprised if Clemson isn’t the overwhelming favorite in the Atlantic to open next season because Watson is back with a very talented young offense around him. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have been exceptional this year despite the revolving door at QB, and Wayne Gallman is finally beginning to make some progress for the running game. Yes, a lot of talent will be leaving on the defensive side of the ball, but Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson and Jayson Kearse will be back to ease the transition. Meanwhile, Florida State figures to see a mass exodus of talent after this season, including the entirety of the offensive line, along with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and likely Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman.

The bottom line though is that Watson is a star in the making. He’s a perfect fit for Chad Morris’ offense, and he’ll have a good bit of talent around him, so there is plenty of cause for excitement if you’re a Clemson fan. The one big concern though: Can the Tigers keep their two coordinators?
In the cold, dark hours after another Virginia Tech home loss, the lots around Lane Stadium sit empty, except for one lonely image: A few guys playing corn hole next to a fire they built to keep warm.

Those are the loyalists, and there are plenty of them in Blacksburg. But there also are many others wondering how much longer the Virginia Tech program can go on like this, mired in mediocrity after so many years filled with so many wins.

Frank Beamer led this program to all those wins, and he has led this program to all its recent losses. His situation presents a complex dynamic that has no easy answers. Athletic director Whit Babcock gave Beamer a contract extension before the season began as a way to give him a little more security and head off constant questions from reporters and recruits wondering about his future.

That has not stopped anybody from debating how much longer Beamer has left. He has given every indication he plans to return in 2015 despite a third straight subpar season.

[+] EnlargeMiami defense
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesThings have been a struggle for Virginia Tech since it won at Ohio State in Week 2, as the Hokies have dropped five of seven games.
Truthfully, nobody inside the program envisioned being 4-5 in November. Not after a win over Ohio State in Week 2. Looking back, that win may have ended up setting Virginia Tech up to fail. The Hokies lost the following week to East Carolina, and only have two wins since Sept. 6.

“We came out on fire that game, but you had a lot of young guys playing for their first time this year and to keep that momentum going, there has to be a mindset type of deal,” senior safety Detrick Bonner said. “You have to have more leadership going on both sides of the ball. You have to hold yourself accountable as a whole group.

“Just going back from that game ... we probably took the rest of the games more lightly, being that we won that game thinking we could finish the rest of the season with wins. It didn’t go that way, but we’re going to definitely try to finish strong these last few games.”

Perhaps the mindset impacted performance, but so did injuries. The Hokies have been hit hard at just about every area on the field, from running back to offensive line, to defensive front and secondary. Those injuries, combined with 18 freshmen listed on the depth chart, have had a detrimental impact. So have turnovers and penalties, generally a sign of undisciplined teams.

“What you've got to be good at is being realistic in what you got on your football team,” Beamer explained on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “I would have hoped that Ohio State would have thought they were beaten by a good football team, not be such a low mark in their season.

“I like our football team. I like our players. I liked them after we beat Ohio State. I liked them after we had a tough loss. They work hard. They want to be successful. They do what you ask them to do. I'd just like for them to have a little more experience.”

Nine games in, they should. Still, the only game Virginia Tech had no chance to in win the fourth quarter was against Miami last month. The Hokies have dropped three straight, with a trip to No. 21 Duke next.

The last time Virginia Tech lost four games in a row in one season was in 1992. That happens to be the last time the Hokies finished with a losing record. Only Florida State has a longer streak of consecutive winning seasons.

Still, fan interest has been dwindling. Virginia Tech saw its 93-game home sellout streak end to start 2013. Though Virginia Tech announced a sellout against Miami, vast patches of seats remained empty in the upper deck.

The following day on campus, it was as if a football game never happened. But there is not much vitriol for Beamer or the football program, at least not yet. “The feeling on campus is mixed,” said freshman Willie Bruchey. “I’d like to see them do better, but we’re all here to support coach.”

Another student asked, “If we get rid of him, who do we get? Will he be better? If he’s not, we got rid of coach for what?”

Normalizing expectations seems important, but so is maximizing talent. That is why 2015 will be crucial. Of the 28 touchdowns the Hokies have scored this season, 19 are from freshmen. Plus, injured difference makers Luther Maddy, Brandon Facyson, Shai McKenzie and Trey Edmunds will be back.

Recruiting is going relatively well, too. After a tough loss to Boston College on Nov. 1, the Hokies hosted several elite recruits, who spent time playing pool with Beamer in his home.

ESPN Recruiting Nation says Virginia Tech can end up with a Top 25 class if it pulls in some critical commitments, most notably injured defensive end Josh Sweat from Chesapeake, Va. The top two uncommitted recruits from the state of Virginia are both considering the Hokies.

While there are reasons why Virginia Tech has fallen back, the trend cannot continue. Beamer knows that better than anybody.

“Any time you're not successful in this business, it’s hard,” Beamer said. “I try to keep it realistic. I try to evaluate where we should be, and how close are we to being there. Some people think we should win every game. We’d like to win every ball game, but I think you’ve got to be realistic and understand other teams don't stay the same.

“They change from year to year. We don't stay the same. We change from year to year. Play as hard as you can, be as good as you can, and hope you get your share of the wins.”