For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.
When Florida State officially handed the reins to Jimbo Fisher, it expected to inject some energy and passion into its program. But after a trip to the ACC Championship game in his first season, Fisher has exceeded all expectations on the recruiting trail. Clemson was the Clemson we have all grown to know and love. The Tigers surged late in the recruiting process and had one of the best National Signing Days in the nation.
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. Athlon is also America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and has been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are "The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011" in the ACC.
The ACC’s middle class — namely Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech — have had some great seasons in league play since realignment. But in all reality, it has been Virginia Tech’s conference since entering the league in 2004. Frank Beamer’s bunch has won four of the seven ACC titles since joining – including three of the last four.
However, if the Hokies expect to return to the ACC title game in 2011, they will have to answer one huge question: Who will replace Tyrod Taylor at quarterback? His name is Logan Thomas. The 6’6” 240-pound sophomore-to-be was an elite recruit coming out Lynchburg, Va. In 2009. (He was the No. 56 ranked player nationally in the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100 to be exact.) Thomas was thought of more as a tight end or receiver when being recruited, however. This gives Beamer tremendous athletic/play-making ability at the quarterback position, but also means there will be plenty of room to develop as a passer. On defense, everyone knows that Bud Foster will have his side of the ball ready to play every Saturday in Blacksburg.
Thomas won’t be the only highly touted signal caller to step into the spotlight. In fact, the theme of the 2011 off-season could be the changing of the guard at quarterback. Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia will all be replacing veteran leaders at the game’s most important position. The good news, however, is that most of these teams will be inserting a player with loads of unrealized talent.
Florida State will say goodbye to Christian Ponder and say hello to E.J. Manuel. Fans have had many small glimpses of the Virginia native’s ability as he has filled in admirably for the oft-injured Ponder (see Virginia Tech game this season). But this is Manuel’s team now and he needs to live up to his recruiting hype (No. 3 QB in the nation in 2008). The defense showed plenty of improvement last season and returns a lot of playmakers. FSU’s return trip to the ACC title game will hinge largely on Manuel’s play. Replacing some big names along the offensive line will be key as well.
The exact same story is being told at Clemson, NC State (assuming Russell Wilson returns to the diamond permanently) and North Carolina as well. Tajh Boyd, Mike Glennon and Bryn Renner were all highly rated as incoming freshmen, and now, each faces the task of leading an ACC contender for the first time. Each has large shoes to fill and each has shown flashes of tremendous ability in spot duty. Boyd will have the most to work with as youthful names like DeAndre Hopkins, Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown and Dwayne Allen have gained needed experience in 2010. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper will once again lead a stellar ground attack for the Tigers.
The much less touted (a two-star athlete from Alabama) Tevin Washington faces a slightly different task at Georgia Tech. Yes, he is replacing an incredibly successful veteran incumbent. But Washington plays a much easier system to learn and will have five straight starts under his belt when next summer arrives. The junior-to-be rushed for 334 yards on 19 carries per game over the final four regular season games of 2010.
Is O'Brien the preseason first team All-ACC QB in '11?
Boston College’s Chase Rettig falls closest to Manuel in this discussion. He didn’t begin the year as the starter but got plenty of experience, and while not being Manuel-touted as a recruit, Rettig was a nationally sought after prospect. The offensive line in Chestnut Hill will take some heavy losses but has stellar ball-carriers Montel Harris and Andre Williams returning.
Freshman of the Year Danny O’Brien at Maryland, along with youngsters Sean Renfree at Duke and Tanner Price at Wake Forest, will compete for preseason All-ACC honors. Assuming Al Golden likes what he sees from his senior, the first team nod could go to Miami’s Jacory Harris — who will be the only quarterback in the ACC with more than one year of starting experience when play starts next fall.
O’Brien and Harris might be in the most intriguing spots in the entire conference. Ralph Freidgen was the Coach of the Year and was told not to return. Randy Shannon was not coach of the year and was told the same. This leaves the freshman of the year and the most experienced quarterback in the league — both of whom will be surrounded by plenty of talent — to help break in a new coaching staffs for a teams with eyes on an ACC title berth.
Needless to say, the ACC will once again be an up and down, unpredictable rollar coaster in 2011.
Atlantic Division Predictions (with key losses)
1. Florida State: QB Christian Ponder, OL Rodney Hudson, OL Ryan McMahon, DE Markus White
2. Clemson: DE DaQuan Bowers*, QB Kyle Parker, OL Chris Hairston, S DeAndre McDaniel, DT Jarvis Jenkins, CB Marcus Gilchrist
3. Maryland: RB Da’Rel Scott, LB Adrian Moten, LB Alex Wujciak, WR Torrey Smith*
5. Boston College: OL Anthony Castonzo, OL Rich Lapham, OL Thomas Claiborne, LB Mark Herzlich
6. Wake Forest: WR Marshall Williams
Coastal Division Predictions
1. Virginia Tech: QB Tyrod Taylor, DE Steven Friday, DT John Graves, CB Rashad Carmichael, RB Ryan Williams*
2. Miami: WR Leonard Hankerson, OL Orlando Franklin, DE Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, K/P Matt Bosher, CB Brandon Harris*, LB Sean Spence*
3. Georgia Tech: QB Joshua Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, CB Mario Butler
4. North Carolina: QB T.J. Yates, RB Shaun Draughn, FB Ryan Houston, WR Greg Little, DT Marvin Austin, LB Bruce Carter, LB Quan Sturdivant, CB Charles Brown, CB Kendric Burney, S Deunta Williams, S Da’Norris Searcy
5. Duke: C Bryan Morgan, LB Abraham Kromah, DE Patrick Egboh
6. Virginia: CB Ras-I Dowling, QB Marc Verica
* Underclassman that is likely to leave early for the NFL Draft.
Athlon will be awarding postseason honors to each BCS conference in the country. Today we look at the ACC’s best for 2010.
For the sake of this exercise, the Heisman and Bednarik will function as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The Outland will be given to the offensive lineman of the year while the Lombardi will be given to the defensive lineman of the year. Two fictitious awards, the Adrian Peterson Freshman of the Year honor and the Desmond Howard return specialist of the year award, will be given as well.
Heisman Trophy (MVP/POY): Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
Taylor had the most efficient season by any quarterback in the conference this year and never lost a game. He was also allowed to be more improvisational this season — as his 637 yards rushing nearly doubled his 370 from 2009. The 23 TD passes were second in the league and nearly doubled his career high of 13 from last year. He also had arguably his best career game statistically in the ACC title game victory over Florida State: 18-for-28, 263 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 24 yards rushing and another TD.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Def. POY): Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
With much mythical recruiting hype comes much actual pressure — and Bowers finally lived up to all the accolades he received as a high schooler. The monster defensive end led the nation in sacks with 15.5 and was second nationally in tackles for loss with 25. Both led the ACC, obviously. He added an interception, a forced fumble and 10 quarterback hurries to go with his 49 total tackles.
Davey O’Brien Award (QB): Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
See Heisman Trophy above.
Doak Walker Award (RB): Montel Harris, Boston College
The junior tailback led the conference in carries by a wide margin. His 269 rushing attempts topped Anthony Allen (217), and was one of only two players to carry the ball more than 181 times. And he missed a game. He still managed to lead the conference in rushing with 1,243 yards (1,225 for Allen).
Fred Biletnikoff Award (WR): Leonard Hankerson, Miami and Torrey Smith, Maryland
Statistically speaking, it does not get any closer than this one. These two finished within one catch of each other (66 for Hankerson and 65 for Smith), within 40 yards of each other (1,085 to 1,045) and tied for the league lead in touchdown catches with 12.
John Mackey Award (TE): George Bryan, NC State
Three ACC tight ends were basically statistically even this fall. Cooper Helfet, Dwayne Allen and Bryan caught 34, 31 and 32 passes for 380, 356 and 344 yards, respectively. Yet Bryan scored the most touchdowns, was voted first-team All-ACC by the media this year and was Russell Wilson’s clutch target in tight spots.
Outland Trophy (O-Lineman): Rodney Hudson, Florida State
Hudson is one of 11 players in ACC history to win the top offensive lineman award. The four-time All-ACC lineman has made 46 straight starts for the Noles, and in 772 snaps this fall, he was penalized one time.
Dick Butkus Award (LB): Luke Kuechly, Boston College
It was supposed to be hard to replace Mark Herzlich last fall. All Kuechly did was earn ACC Freshman of the Year honors. As an encore, the sophomore tackling machine led the nation in stops with 14.25 tackles per game. He added 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three passes deflected.
Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
The only player to get more votes/points for first team All-ACC than Hosley was Bowers. The sophomore defensive back led the nation with eight interceptions and batted seven more passes to the ground. Hosley was also an excellent punt returner for the Hokies.
Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
See Chuck Bednarik above.
Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Danny O’Brien, Maryland
The Terps signal caller really came into his own during conference play this fall. The youngster played sparingly in the first three games but then turned in the fourth most efficient season by a quarterback in the ACC — ahead of names like Wilson, Harris, Renfree and Parker. His 21 TD passes were third in the league and his 2,257 yards were sixth. Again, all done in basically 10 games.
Lou Groza Award (K): Chris Hazley, Virginia Tech
The Hokie kicker missed his first kick of the year before nailing 20 straight field goals for the leagues best kick percentage (95.2 %). Hazley trailed only Virginia’s Keith Payne in scoring by an average of 0.11 points per game (8.73 to 8.62).
Ray Guy Award (P): Matt Bosher, Miami
The Hurricanes punter led the league with 44.3 yards per punt average — and made 12 of his 16 field goal attempts.
Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Tony Logan, Maryland
David Wilson was also worthy of this award with his two kick return touchdowns. However, Logan, and his 30 punt returns, got the edge. He finished third nationally in punt return average with 18.8 yards per return. He led the league with 563 punt return yards (by a wide margin) and scored two of his own return touchdowns.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Ralph Friedgen was the other ‘finalist’ for ACC COY. The Terps were picked fifth in the Atlantic and finished with eight wins. With only one win against a team with a winning record, however, and Beamer-Ball going unbeaten, the Hokie gets the nod. This was the first 8-0 ACC team since 2000 when Florida State won the conference title with an unblemished record.
Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Mark Stoops, Florida State
So a Florida State defense finishes seventh in total defense in the ACC and fifth in scoring and their coordinator was the best the conference had to offer? If you consider where this unit was a year ago, it's obvious. This defense was rated 12th in rushing and total defense with the 11th-rated passing and 10th-rated scoring defense. They finished No. 3 against the run in the ACC and led the conference in sacks (3.54 spg) — which was good for second nationally.
ACC Championship: Florida State (9-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2, 8-0 ACC)
Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET in Charlotte, N.C.
Two teams that have reasons to wonder what might have been still have plenty to play for this week. No. 20 Florida State and No. 12 Virginia Tech meet for the conference title for the first time since the inaugural ACC championship game in 2005.
The Seminoles head to Bank of America Stadium with a three-game winning streak after defeating in-state rival Florida 31-7 last week. They are oh-so-close to being 11-1, with two of their losses coming to NC State (on a fluke fumble) and North Carolina (thanks to two missed field goals in the fourth quarter) in consecutive weeks.
The Hokies, meanwhile, have put together a 10-game winning streak since dropping their first two games of the season. Virginia Tech lost to Boise State 33-30 in its season opener, then sleep-walked through a 21-16 loss to Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison five days later. Since then, though, the Hokies have won by average margin of 21.1 points while playing just one game decided by 10 points or fewer.
Virginia Tech, which routed Virginia 37-7 last week, is playing in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in the six-year history of the event. The Hokies are the first team to go undefeated in ACC play since Florida State in 2000.
The Seminoles, who upset Virginia Tech 27-22 in the 2005 ACC title game, hope to continue their string of success in the series. Florida State leads the all-time series 22-11-1, including wins in 13 of the past 14 meetings.
Here’s a look at how the teams match up this time:
Quarterbacks: Florida State: Christian Ponder began the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he didn’t put up the big numbers everyone expected. Still, he is third in the ACC in passing efficiency (137.6 rating) after throwing for 2,038 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ponder had his troublesome right elbow drained again after last week’s win over Florida and says he will be ready to go against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor has rewritten the school record book, setting new marks for career passing yards (6,532) and total offense (8,682 yards). But he has been at his best this season, leading the ACC in passing efficiency (156.9 rating) after throwing for 2,258 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. The MVP of the 2008 ACC championship game, Taylor also has rushed for 613 yards this season.
Edge: Push. Taylor has had the better season in 2010 en route to earning All-ACC honors, but Ponder has plenty of big-game experience and is just as capable. Plus, the Seminoles have a dangerous weapon in backup E.J. Manuel if Ponder suffers an injury during the game.
Running backs: Florida State: Starting tailback Jermaine Thomas (484 yards, 6 TD) will miss his third consecutive game with a sprained knee, and Ty Jones (496 yards, 2 TD) could be limited after sitting out practice early in the week because he was “banged up.” That leaves Chris Thompson (686 yards, 5 TD), who averages an eye-popping 6.8 yards per carry and has ripped off three touchdown runs of at least 70 yards this season. Fullback Lonnie Pryor (4 rush TD, 3 TD catches) is a threat as a runner and receiver in the red zone.
Virginia Tech: Darren Evans (748 yards, 10 TD) has punishing power, David Wilson (573 yards, 5 TD) showcases blazing speed, and Ryan Williams (428 yards, 9 TD) offers the perfect blend of both. Williams continues to get closer to full strength after missing four games in the middle of the season with a pulled hamstring.
Edge: Virginia Tech. The Hokies might have the best trio of tailbacks in the country. Evans and Williams are former ACC Rookie of the Year winners who each have more than 2,000 career rushing yards, and Wilson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Receivers: Florida State: Bert Reed (52 catches, 547 yards, 2 TD) is a threat to run after catching short throws, but he has dropped too many passes this season. Taiwan Easterling (35 catches, 462 yards, 4 TD) does a nice job on intermediate routes, and Willie Haulstead (33 catches, 500 yards, 6 TD) and Rodney Smith (27 catches, 408 yards, 3 TD) stretch the field vertically. Tight end Beau Reliford (15 catches, 171 yards, 1 TD) doesn’t get many opportunities.
Virginia Tech: Jarrett Boykin (45 catches, 728 yards, 5 TD) is fourth in school history in receiving yards (2,004), and he’s just a junior. Marcus Davis (16 catches, 213 yards, 2 TD) is a freakish athlete who has moved into a bigger role after the season-ending injury to Dyrell Roberts, and Danny Coale (26 catches, 497 yards, 2 TD) has a knack for getting open deep even though he lacks breakaway speed. The Hokies don’t throw the ball to tight end Andre Smith often, but five of his 17 receptions this season have gone for touchdowns.
Edge: Florida State. Boykin is the best all-around receiver on the field with his size, huge hands and blocking ability, but the Seminoles have more weapons. Rodney Smith, in particular, has emerged with 10 receptions for 224 yards in the last three games. He could be a star in the future, possibly as soon as this week.
Offensive linemen: The Seminoles have started six different combinations up front this season, primarily because of injury problems at right guard. All-ACC left guard Rodney Hudson won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC’s most outstanding blocker for the second year in a row. Center Ryan McMahon, a second-team All-ACC pick, has made a school-record 51 consecutive starts. Bryan Stork has returned from an illness to start at right guard, and tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders are solid.
The Hokies have started the same five players up front all year, a fact that has allowed them to develop chemistry and continuity after a slow start to the season. Right guard Jaymes Brooks and right tackle Blake DeChristopher made the All-ACC second team. Center Beau Warren, left guard Greg Nosal and left tackle Andrew Lanier all came to Virginia Tech as tight ends, so they have athleticism.
Edge: Florida State. The Seminoles feature what is regarded as the ACC’s best offensive line, and they are coming off a performance against Florida that their coaching staff called their best job of pass protection all season.
Defensive linemen: Defensive ends Brandon Jenkins (12 sacks) and Markus White (7.5 sacks) are two big reasons why the Seminoles rank second in the country in sacks (ACC-best 3.58 per game). Jenkins, a first-team All-ACC selection, is tied for third nationally in sacks and tied for 11th nationally in tackles for loss. Florida State is talented but young on the interior, with three sophomores and a freshman rotating at defensive tackle.
For the Hokies, Steven Friday was named to the All-ACC second team after ranking in the conference’s top 10 in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (14), and fellow defensive end Chris Drager has a big motor. Second-team All-ACC pick John Graves and Antoine Hopkins have done a nice job at defensive tackle after the Hokies lost Kwamaine Battle to a season-ending knee injury in September.
Edge: Florida State. Neither team’s front is impenetrable against the run, but the Seminoles get the nod here because of their pass-rushing ability.
Linebackers: The Seminoles have started the same three linebackers in every game this season. Kendall Smith and Nigel Bradham each rank among the top 15 tacklers in the ACC, and Bradham (4 sacks) is a threat to blitz from his weakside position. Mister Alexander plays the strong side for the Seminoles, who rank 23rd nationally and third in the ACC against the run (123.7 yards per game).
Bruce Taylor has been a stud all season, ranking among the ACC’s top 10 in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (15.5). After Taylor, though, there’s a decline. Lyndell Gibson has started losing playing time to redshirt freshman Tariq Edwards, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has struggled enough this season that defensive coordinator Bud Foster often replaces him with an extra defensive back. The Hokes are just 68th nationally against the run, allowing more rushing yards per game (156.9) than they have in any season since 1992.
Edge: Florida State. Taylor’s productivity is impressive, but the Seminoles have the stronger (and more experienced) linebacking group as a whole.
Defensive backs: The Seminoles have some accomplished cornerbacks in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Rhodes leads the conference in pass breakups (11), and Reid is tied for second in that category (9). Safety Nick Moody, who is third on the team in tackles (60), returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown to seal Florida State’s victory over Maryland. The Seminoles rank 30th nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (115.6 rating).
All-ACC selection Jayron Hosley leads the nation with eight interceptions, continuing the Hokies’ tradition of outstanding cornerbacks. Fellow cornerback Rashad Carmichael (4 INT) sat out last week’s win over Virginia with an ankle injury, but he hopes to return this week. Even if he can’t play or is limited, the Hokies have a good replacement in true freshman Kyle Fuller. Second-team All-ACC safety Davon Morgan (72 tackles, 4 INT) is effective against the run and the pass, free safety Eddie Whitley has the versatility to play several positions, and backup Antone Exum is tied for second in the ACC with nine pass breakups.
Edge: Virginia Tech. The Hokies are seventh nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (102.3 rating) and have recorded an ACC-high 20 interceptions. They have intercepted 12 passes over the last five games.
Special teams: For the Noles, Dustin Hopkins is one of the most talented kickers in the ACC, but he made just 17 of 23 field-goal tries this season. Among them, of course, was the 55-yard field goal as time expired that lifted the Seminoles past Clemson 16-13 on Nov. 13. Hopkins has booted 36 of his 74 kickoffs for touchbacks (second in the nation) to help Florida State lead the ACC in kickoff coverage, and that could be important because Virginia Tech leads the league in kickoff returns. Punter Shawn Powell ranks third in the ACC (43.9 yards per punt), and the Seminoles are fourth in the conference in net punting (38.4 yards per kick). Florida State hasn’t done much in the return game this season, but Greg Reid always is a threat to score.
The Hokies traditionally are strong in this area, and this season is no different. All-ACC kicker Chris Hazley is 19-for-20 on field goals, having made his last 19 attempts, and second-team All-ACC selection Brian Saunders leads the conference in punting (44.4 yards per kick). The Hokies also are explosive in the return game, where David Wilson leads the ACC on kickoffs (26.8 yards per return, 2 TD) and Jayron Hosley ranks second in the league on punts (13.5 yards per return). Virginia Tech is second and fifth in the conference in kickoff and punt coverage, respectively.
Edge: Virginia Tech. Hazley has been rock solid since missing his first field-goal try of the season, and Wilson and Hosley are extremely dangerous. As an added bonus, the Hokies always are a threat to block a kick.
Head coaches: Jimbo Fisher has sparked a nice turnaround in his first season replacing legend Bobby Bowden. Fisher already has recorded the most wins by a first-year coach at Florida State, surpassing Larry Jones’ 8-4 record in 1971.
Frank Beamer is ninth on college football’s all-time wins list with 239 victories. He has led the Hokies to seven consecutive 10-win seasons, the longest active streak in the country, and has guided his team to 17 consecutive bowl games.
Edge: Virginia Tech. Beamer has seen it all in his 24 seasons in Blacksburg. He doesn’t panic, and he feels no pressure to prove to anyone how smart he is.
Randy Shannon helped Miami’s football program make big strides with regard to discipline and academic achievement. Unfortunately for him, those positives weren’t enough to outweigh some noticeable negatives: not enough victories and not enough fans in the stands at Sun Life Stadium.
A few months after giving Shannon a contract extension, Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt decided Saturday that Shannon no longer was the right man to lead the program. Hocutt fired him in the wake of a 23–20 overtime loss to South Florida that took place in front of 26,369 people and dropped the Hurricanes to 7–5 this season.
Hocutt said he didn’t base his decision on the final game, but this much is undeniable: When the tradition-rich program located in South Florida loses at home to an unaccomplished program called South Florida (located in Tampa, by the way) led by a freshman walk-on quarterback, there’s a problem.
In many ways, Shannon fell victim to the championship expectations that he helped create. He was a linebacker at Miami from 1985-88 and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater for 13 seasons, playing a role on three of the program’s five national championship teams.
Shannon restored Miami as a premier destination for the nation’s elite high school talent, bringing in highly rated recruiting classes. Fans and alumni expected those classes to turn Miami back into “The U,” but the Hurricanes have yet to play for an ACC title since joining the conference. So as Miami continued to fall out of contention for championships despite having talent that analysts agreed was championship-worthy, someone had to pay the price.
Shannon finishes with a 28–22 record, including 0–2 in bowl games, in four seasons as head coach of the Hurricanes. That ledger includes a 16–16 mark in ACC play, including a 10–10 mark against Coastal Division opponents Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Shannon made some mistakes during his tenure, most recently when he started true freshman Stephen Morris at quarterback against South Florida after originally saying that Jacory Harris would be his starter when Harris returned to health from his concussion.
But Shannon also did plenty of good things, which Hurricanes fans will realize in the years to come. Just check out Miami’s depth chart leading up to the South Florida game: Only five of the 25 offensive players on it are seniors, and just seven of the 24 defensive players listed are seniors. The offensive line loses just one of its top 10 players next season, and the defense loses just three starters.
Bottom line: The next coach — whoever that is — will take over a Miami program in better shape than the one Shannon inherited. And no one should be surprised if the Hurricanes win big in 2011.
The only question will be whether Shannon could have done the same if given the opportunity.
Boston College 16, Syracuse 7
South Florida 23, Miami 20, OT
Virginia Tech 37, Virginia 7
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Maryland 38, N.C. State 31
North Carolina 24, Duke 19
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34
Championship Game Set
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher probably said it best when he described Saturday as “a perfect day for Florida State football.” Two games were important to the Seminoles, and both produced the result that the Seminoles desired.
First — and most important in Fisher’s mind — Florida State ended its six-game losing streak against rival Florida by thumping the Gators in convincing fashion. Minutes later, Maryland wrapped up a victory over NC State to give the Seminoles the Atlantic Division title and send them to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2005.
Florida State (9-3, 6-2) will take on Virginia Tech, which extended its winning steak to 10 games with a dominating victory over Virginia, on Saturday night in Charlotte. The Hokies (10-2, 8-0), who became the first team to go through ACC play undefeated since Florida State in 2000, have won 10 games for a nation-best seventh consecutive season.
The flip side to the thrill of victory for Florida State and Virginia Tech was the agony of defeat for NC State. The Wolfpack (8-4, 5-3) would have played in the ACC championship game for the first time had they defeated the Terrapins, but they couldn’t hold on after taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
NC State resembled a team of destiny down the stretch when it pulled out wins over Florida State and North Carolina thanks to an improbable fumble recovery and a touchdown pass that coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer.” But dropped passes, including a couple that could have been touchdowns, and an inability to contain Maryland’s passing game prevented the Wolfpack from grabbing one more close victory.
“We had all those chances, and guys who usually take advantage of those chances didn’t make the plays,” O’Brien said. “It’s just a tough way to end a heck of a season and what could have been a chance to keep going. But it didn’t turn out the way we would have liked.”
Smith Enjoys Record Day
Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith saved his best performance for the final game of the regular season. Smith posted career highs across the board against NC State with 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns. He tied a school record for receptions in a game and became the first player in Maryland history to catch four touchdown passes in a single game.
Smith’s effort helped Maryland overcome its lack of production in the running game. Quarterback Danny O’Brien completed 33 of 47 passes for a career-high 417 yards, the first 400-yard passing game for a Maryland player since Scott Milanovich in 1993, as the Terrapins (8-4, 5-3) finished with a net minus-9 yards rushing.
“Torrey has been able to make big plays all year long,” Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “We saw early on that he was kind of hot, so we wanted to feed the hot hands. They’re a good defense, and we weren’t able to run the ball consistently enough, so at some point you just have to go with what’s working.”
Smith’s big day also paved the way for some individual milestones near the end of his junior season. He became the second player in school history to go over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, set a single-season school record for touchdown catches (12) and broke the school record for career all-purpose yards (5,183).
BC’s Williams runs … and runs … and runs
Andre Williams entered the weekend with 34 carries in his brief college career. Then Boston College’s true freshman tailback surpassed that total in one afternoon.
Filling in for injured star Montel Harris, Williams rushed for 185 yards and one touchdown on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles past Syracuse.
“I’m a little tired, but I feel fine,” Williams said after helping Boston College (7-5, 4-4) earn its fifth consecutive victory. “Coach now knows he has more than one back and he can be comfortable with me in the game.”
Williams spent a large portion of this season as Boston College’s third-string tailback, but unforeseen circumstances allowed him to show his talent in the regular-season finale. Backup Sterlin Phifer left the team last month, leaving Williams as Harris’ backup. Then Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing and has more career rushing yards than any junior in ACC history, suffered a knee injury last week against Virginia.
Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries in relief of Harris against the Cavaliers, and he moved into the starting role against Syracuse after Harris had arthroscopic surgery Monday.
“I can’t say Andre surprised us because we knew he had that ability,” Boston College left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I’m sure you saw him bursting through those holes. He just runs with no fear. It was impressive. He was running like a man possessed.”
Tigers Turn To Boyd
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney changed quarterbacks after Kyle Parker threw an interception that South Carolina’s Antonio Allen returned 37 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd entered the game, giving the Tigers a glimpse at their future.
“I was a little surprised to get the call,” said Boyd, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 73 yards. “I felt like I didn’t have a lot of opportunities and a lot of reps this season, so this really helped me out a lot. It was really a confidence booster.
“We have a lot to look forward to with this young team. We have a bowl game coming up, and we have to help the seniors go out victorious.”
Parker tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins on Clemson’s first possession, but he struggled for the rest of the night. He completed just 7 of 17 passes for 117 yards in his final regular-season game. Parker is just a sophomore in terms of football eligibility, but he is likely to pursue a professional baseball career next year.
“I always want the best for Kyle,” Boyd said. “I wish he could have finished his last game here, but I think everything happens for a reason. Hopefully this will lead to some good things.”
The Tigers (6-6, 4-4) were short-handed once again in the backfield, with leading rusher Andre Ellington still bothered by his toe injury. Ellington, who missed Clemson’s previous three games, carried just one time for no yards against the Gamecocks because his foot still didn’t feel right.
Ellington will have surgery soon and won’t play in Clemson’s bowl game.
• Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers has to wait for a bowl game to get another chance to break the school’s single-season sack record. Bowers, who had recorded a sack in a school-record nine consecutive games heading into the weekend, had none against South Carolina. He has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of Keith Adams’ school-record 16 sacks.
• Four turnovers and Scott Blair’s first missed extra-point attempt in 78 tries short-circuited a dominant effort by Georgia Tech’s offense in the Yellow Jackets’ loss at Georgia. The Yellow Jackets racked up 512 total yards, including 411 rushing yards, and a season-high 38:14 of possession time. Georgia Tech also ran 92 plays and picked up 32 first downs, its highest totals in those categories since 2000.
• Miami senior Leonard Hankerson became the third player in school history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Eddie Brown in 1984 and Andre Johnson in 2002. Hankerson, who had nine receptions for 127 yards against South Florida, went over 2,000 yards receiving for his career.
• North Carolina dominated Duke — just not on the scoreboard. The Tar Heels outgained the Blue Devils 519-275, amassing more than 500 yards of offense for the first time since 2004. North Carolina also controlled the ball for a season-high 39:33 of possession time en route to beating Duke for the 20th time in the last 21 meetings between the teams.
• NC State’s run defense was strong in the month of November. The Wolfpack, who held North Carolina and Maryland to a combined minus-16 rushing yards in the last two games, allowed a total of 140 rushing yards on 132 attempts (1.06 yards per carry) in four November games. NC State helped its cause in those games with 16 sacks, which count against rushing totals in college football.
• Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor enjoyed his final game at Lane Stadium, completing 13 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown against Virginia. Taylor became the school’s all-time leading passer (6,532 yards), surpassing the previous record of 6,508 yards set by Bryan Randall from 2001-04.
• Wake Forest snapped its nine-game losing streak thanks in part to two blocked punts against Vanderbilt. The Demon Deacons blocked two punts in a game for the first time since Nov. 29, 2008, their last game against the Commodores.
Not that long ago, Virginia Tech was a team that couldn’t find a way to win a game. These days, Virginia Tech is a team that’s starting to look like it might not lose again.
The Hokies clinched the Coastal Division title Saturday with their 31–17 victory over Miami, earning a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons. They extended their winning streak to nine games, their longest since 1999, as their 0–2 start to the season became even smaller in the rear-view mirror.
Back in September, after a six-day stretch in which Virginia Tech lost to Boise State and then got upset at home by Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison, such a surge seemed improbable. But the ACC’s most disappointing team through the season’s first two weeks now has a chance to accomplish many of the goals it set before the season started.
If the Hokies (9–2, 7–0 ACC) beat rival Virginia this week, they’ll reach 10 victories for the seventh consecutive season. They also will become the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.
Neither achievement measures up to Virginia Tech’s ultimate goal of winning a national championship, but that dream for 2010 died early. The Hokies deserve credit for not letting that disappointment kill the rest of their season.
Boston College 17, Virginia 13
N.C. State 29, North Carolina 25
Georgia Tech 30, Duke 20
Clemson 30, Wake Forest 10
Virginia Tech 31, Miami 17
Florida State 30, Maryland 16
Atlantic Division now a two-team race
Maryland suffered its first home loss of the season against Florida State, falling out of contention for the Atlantic Division title in the process. But the Terrapins (7–4, 4–3) still will have a say in which team lines up against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
If Maryland beats NC State this week, the Seminoles will go to the title game as the Atlantic Division’s representative. If the Wolfpack prevail, they will take on the Hokies.
Florida State (8–3, 6–2) is the leader in the clubhouse, having completed its conference schedule with a half-game lead on NC State. But the Wolfpack (8–3, 5–2) remained in control of the division with their victory at North Carolina, and they own the tiebreaker over Florida State based on their 28–24 win over the Seminoles on Oct. 28.
“It’s everything we’ve worked for,” NC State quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Since Day 1 when I got here, I’ve had ups and downs. But our team is really together right now, and that means a lot. …
“We have an opportunity, and now we have to get ready for this week and seize the moment.”
Pack’s seniors get sweep
NC State did more than move one win away from the Atlantic Division title over the weekend. The Wolfpack also got a rivalry win, knocking off North Carolina (6–5, 3–4) for the fourth year in a row. NC State had beaten the Tar Heels four times in a row during just one previous stretch, a string of five consecutive wins from 1988-92.
“It’s everything,” NC State wide receiver Darrell Davis said. “Being a guy from Florida, I didn’t know much about this rivalry before I got here. The people showed me how this rivalry is to them, how much it means to them. Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike this team as well.”
The lack of warm feelings was evident after the biggest play of the game, a 2-yard touchdown catch by NC State’s Owen Spencer on fourth down late in the third quarter that cut North Carolina’s lead to 19–17. Spencer pulled in the pass, which NC State coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer,” after it was deflected by UNC safety Da’Norris Searcy and Davis.
NC State wide receiver Jarvis Williams and North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick were ejected from the game for their role in a scrum immediately after the play.
“I just think it was a big turning point for us,” Davis said, “and we used it as something positive instead of something negative.”
NC State outscored North Carolina 19–6 in the game’s final 16 minutes, going ahead for good on an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by T.J. Graham early in the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack’s defense took it from there, holding the Tar Heels to a net minus-7 yards rushing for the game on the strength of seven sacks.
Let’s go bowling
The ACC entered the weekend with three teams that needed one more victory to become bowl-eligible. All three teams won, extending some impressive streaks in the process.
Boston College knocked off Virginia to gain bowl eligibility for the 12th consecutive season, winning their fourth game in a row after a season-jeopardizing five-game losing streak. The Eagles (6–5, 4–4) became just the fifth team in ACC history to win their final four league games after losing their first four league games.
Clemson picked up its first road win of the season at Wake Forest, recording its 12th consecutive six-win season. The Tigers (6–5, 4–4) also finished at .500 or better in ACC play for the 12th year in a row.
Georgia Tech extended its bowl-eligibility streak to 14 seasons after rallying from a 13–6 halftime deficit to defeat Duke. The Yellow Jackets (6–5, 4–4), who snapped a three-game losing streak, have finished at .500 or better in conference play each of the last 16 seasons.
The ACC now has nine bowl-eligible teams, meaning the conference can fulfill all of its bowl agreements. The league has guaranteed tie-ins with eight bowl games and an option for a ninth, so all nine teams should be able to play in the postseason.
Eagles’ Harris hurting
Boston College improved to 5–0 all time against Virginia, but the victory came at a cost. Tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.0 yards per game), suffered cartilage damage in his left knee on the final play of the third quarter. Harris, who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries against the Cavaliers, did not return to the game. His status for this week’s game at Syracuse is questionable at best.
Harris, who is second on Boston College’s career rushing list with 3,600 yards, has rushed for more yardage than any junior in ACC history. If he can’t play or is limited against the Orange, freshman Andre Williams will carry the load. Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries against Virginia, giving the Eagles a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2006.
Bowers, Tigers tough on defense
Da’Quan Bowers has been so dominant all season that his individual performance has overshadowed the success of Clemson’s team defense. After limiting Wake Forest to 205 total yards, the Tigers lead the ACC and rank ninth nationally in points allowed (16.7 per game). They also have allowed just one offensive touchdown in six consecutive games, the second longest streak in school history.
The Demon Deacons emptied their playbook to try to get something going against the Tigers, letting wide receivers Chris Givens and Marshall Williams each attempt a pass on trick plays. But nothing worked until the fourth quarter, when the game already had been decided.
“Give Clemson credit,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “There are some really good defenses in this league, but I don’t know that there’s any defense better than the one we just played.”
Bowers, of course, has played a big part from his defensive end position. He had two more sacks against Wake Forest, giving him at least one sack in a school-record ninth consecutive game. Bowers now has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of the school record (16) that Keith Adams set in 1999.
Terrapins lose more linemen
Maryland’s offensive line has been a revolving door for much of the season, a fact that makes the team’s improvement from last year even more remarkable. The Terrapins, who already had lost starting tackles Justin Gilbert and Pete DeSouza to season-ending injuries, endured more misfortune against Florida State.
Center Bennett Fulper (hand) and right guard Justin Lewis (knee) went down in the first half against the Seminoles, causing massive shuffling up front. Right tackle Paul Pinegar replaced Fulper at center, left tackle R.J. Dill moved over to right tackle, and true freshman Max Garcia entered the game at left tackle. Pete White replaced Lewis in a straight switch.
The changes kept the Terrapins afloat in the short term — they rushed for 163 yards and allowed only two sacks against a Florida State defense that was averaging an NCAA-best 3.9 sacks per game — but Maryland will have to pay a price in the future. Garcia, who had been planning to redshirt this season, will lose a year of eligibility.
Some good news for Maryland: X-rays on Fulper’s hand were negative, and he was able to return to the game in the second half.
“That is an area that we can’t sustain many more losses,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said, “but our team stuck in there right to the very end.”
Morris finally looks like a freshman
Miami true freshman quarterback Stephen Morris had been stellar in place of Jacory Harris, who missed his third consecutive game as he recovers from a concussion, until the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech. But Morris threw three interceptions in the final period against the Hokies, and the Hurricanes (7–4, 5–3) finished with six turnovers for the first time since a game against Virginia Tech in 1999.
Morris, who had been 12 of 18 for 168 yards and a touchdown through three quarters, completed just 3 of 15 passes for 34 yards in the fourth. He also was hurt by the fact that Travis Benjamin dropped what would have been a 64-yard touchdown pass.
“They made the plays, and we didn’t,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “When you watch it, it’s heartache because the guys played hard, but we just couldn’t come up with the plays at the right time, and they did.”
Duke’s Brown goes down
Duke lost one of its best defensive players to a serious injury in its defeat at Georgia Tech. True freshman Kelby Brown, who has started the last seven games at middle linebacker, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee against the Yellow Jackets.
Brown sat out the first two games of the season with the intention to redshirt, but his play in practice was so strong that he forced himself on the field. He leads the nation in fumble recoveries per game (0.44) and ranks second among all ACC rookies with 7.3 tackles per game.
“It is unfortunate that Kelby’s fine freshman season ends prematurely,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It is really tough for a freshman to arrive on campus in June and start seven games at middle linebacker, and he did just that. We know he is in great hands with our medical staff — it is the best in the country — and we’re confident Kelby will overcome this obstacle and be back as soon as possible.”
• Clemson tailback Andre Ellington missed his third consecutive game with a foot injury, but Jamie Harper capably carried the load in his absence for the second week in a row. A week after rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown and catching nine passes for 54 yards at Florida State, Harper rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching three passes for 39 yards at Wake Forest. Harper became the first Clemson player with at least 140 rushing yards in back-to-back games since James Davis in 2005.
• Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, but he has avoided throwing an interception for four games in a row. Renfree, who passed for 334 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, has not thrown an interception in his last 157 pass attempts.
• Florida State tailback Chris Thompson ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run for Florida State’s first points against Maryland. Thompson, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, became the first player in school history with three touchdown runs of at least 70 yards in the same season.
• Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair had to handle the punting chores against Duke after a pair of injuries. Starting punter Sean Poole needed surgery after slipping on a curb at a convenience store last week, and backup Chandler Anderson was sidelined with a strained hamstring. Blair, who made field goals of 41, 43 and 44 yards against the Blue Devils, averaged 46 yards on two punts.
• Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech, scoring a touchdown for the sixth consecutive game. Hankerson broke the school record for touchdown catches in a season (12), surpassing the previous mark of 11 set by Michael Irvin in 1986.
• North Carolina’s T.J. Yates completed 33 of 44 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns against N.C. State, setting a school record for completions in a game and throwing for more than 400 yards for the third time this season. Yates also broke his own single-season record for passing yards and became UNC’s all-time leader in passing yards. He has thrown for 8,879 yards in his career, surpassing the previous mark of 8,755 yards set by Darian Durant.
• North Carolina senior Anthony Elzy caught nine passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against NC State, setting a single-game school record for receiving yards by a running back. Elzy, who had nine catches for 37 yards in UNC’s first nine games, has 16 receptions for 280 yards in the last two games.
• NC State received a nice boost against North Carolina thanks to the return of senior kicker Josh Czajkowski, who previously had been declared out for the season with a hamstring injury. Czajkowski made both of his field-goal tries, a 47-yarder and a 24-yarder, and all three of his extra points. “I told him on the field Thursday after he kicked that he should have done this a long time ago,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien joked. “I said, ‘You should have pulled your hamstring a long time ago because now you’re smooth.’ He even said that he’s kicking the ball better, he feels better and has much better rhythm for what he’s doing. Go figure.”
• Virginia wide receivers Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first teammates in school history to post at least 700 receiving yards in the same season. Burd has 752 yards this season, and Inman has 750 yards.
• Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley came up with his nation-leading eighth interception in the fourth quarter against Miami. Hosley is just one interception shy of Virginia Tech’s single-season school record, set by Ron Davidson in 1967.
• Wake Forest has lost nine consecutive games for the first time since it dropped the final 10 games of the 1978 season. The Demon Deacons’ skid is the second-longest active losing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
NC State (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
It’s time for role reversal in the 100th edition of this rivalry game, with North Carolina trying to play the part of spoiler as effectively as NC State has in recent years. The Wolfpack have knocked off the Tar Heels three consecutive seasons, killing North Carolina’s division title chances in 2008 and sending UNC down the list in the ACC’s bowl pecking order last year.
Now the Tar Heels, already eliminated from contention in the Coastal Division, have a chance to keep the Wolfpack from winning a division title. N.C. State would clinch the Atlantic Division with victories in its last two games — this week and at Maryland in the regular-season finale — but its chances would take a big hit with a loss against North Carolina. In fact, a Wolfpack loss combined with a Florida State win over Maryland later Saturday night would send the Seminoles to the ACC championship game.
The key to this game is the turnover battle, which North Carolina can’t afford to lose if it hopes to give coach Butch Davis his first win against N.C. State. The Tar Heels have committed a total of six turnovers in their six victories this season, but they have turned over the ball 14 times in their four losses. Quarterback T.J. Yates tied a career high with four interceptions against Virginia Tech after throwing just four interceptions all season up to that point, and he will need to be sharper in the final home game of his career. Yates, who enters this game needing 288 passing yards to become UNC’s career leader in that category, could get a lift in the running game from tailback Shaun Draughn.
Draughn was limited by an ankle injury against the Hokies last week, but he should be healthy enough to play a larger role against the Wolfpack.
Regardless of Draughn’s status, the Tar Heels will have their hands full with an NC State defense that has allowed a total of 17 points in the last two weeks combined, its lowest total in back-to-back ACC games since 1982. Linebacker Nate Irving made a school-record eight tackles for loss last week in the Wolfpack’s 38-3 victory over Wake Forest, and he ranks third in the nation in that category (1.85 TFL per game) this season.
Offensively, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson needs a big performance in order to push Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor for the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Virginia (4-6, 1-5 ACC) at Boston College (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Virginia saw its bowl hopes die last week with a 42–23 loss to Maryland, but Boston College remains alive in its drive for the postseason. The Eagles, who have followed up a five-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, need one more victory to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season.
Boston College has climbed back into bowl contention on the strength of its defense, which has allowed one touchdown by opposing offenses in the last three games combined. The Eagles, who held Duke to 4 rushing yards in a 21-16 victory over the Blue Devils last week, enter this game with the nation’s No. 1 run defense (74.6 yards per game). The leader of the unit is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads the country in tackles (14.6 per game) and has made at least 10 tackles in a nation-leading 19 consecutive games.
Virginia, meanwhile, is limping to the finish line. The Cavaliers have suffered back-to-back losses since their upset of Miami on Oct. 30. Starting offensive tackle Landon Bradley is out for the season with a knee injury, and starting cornerback Ras-I Dowling also is done for the year with an ankle injury that followed knee and hamstring ailments.
Those injuries will hurt the Cavaliers, but the key storyline entering this game is the health of Virginia’s top two rushers after they went down last week against the Terrapins. Perry Jones suffered a head injury, and Keith Payne suffered a lower leg injury. Virginia coach Mike London is cautiously optimistic that both tailbacks will be able to play against the Eagles, but the combination of their iffy health and Boston College’s smothering run defense might cause the Cavaliers to rely more on quarterback Marc Verica and their passing game.
On the other side, Virginia must find a way to contain Boston College tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (112.9 ypg). Harris lost a pair of fumbles in the red zone at Duke last week, so ball security will be his primary concern as he searches for running room against a Virginia defense that ranks 107th nationally (ACC-worst 202.5 ypg) against the run.
Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech has dominated the series with Duke over the last two decades, winning 18 of the last 20 matchups and each of the last six meetings. If the Yellow Jackets extend that streak, they will become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
Duke, meanwhile, was eliminated from bowl contention with its 21–16 loss to Boston College last week. The Blue Devils have no shot at a .500 record, but what they do have is plenty of experience defending Georgia Tech’s unconventional style of offense. Duke already has played Army and Navy this season, two teams that rely on the option and use many of the same principles and plays as the Yellow Jackets, who lead the nation in rushing (319.3 yards per game).
Tevin Washington continues to fill in at quarterback for Joshua Nesbitt, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken right arm. Washington completed 7 of 16 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown last week in the first start of his career, and he will take his best shot at a Duke defense that isn’t shy about crowding the line of scrimmage against run-oriented opponents.
On the other side, the Blue Devils have benefited from improved play from their quarterbacks in the last three weeks. Duke coach David Cutcliffe has maintained that Sean Renfree is his starter, but he continues to use backup Brandon Connette in short-yardage and red-zone situations. Renfree, who threw 14 interceptions during Duke’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, has not thrown an interception in the last three games.
Clemson (5-5, 3-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-8, 1-6 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Clemson is kicking itself for missed opportunities this season. The Tigers wouldn’t find themselves in this position — out of the Atlantic Division race and still needing one more win to become bowl-eligible — if they had done a better job kicking the football. Chandler Catanzaro made just 2-of-4 field-goal tries in Clemson’s 16-13 loss at Florida State last week, and the Tigers are 9-of-18 on field-goal attempts for the season. Clemson, which got just six points on four trips inside the FSU 20 last week, has scored a touchdown on just three of its last 16 trips inside the red zone.
If the Tigers are to improve those numbers this week, they will have to do so without their top offensive weapon. Tailback Andre Ellington remains sidelined with a strained ligament and a bone fragment in his foot, leaving Jamie Harper as Clemson’s primary ball carrier. Harper enjoyed a breakout performance last week against the Seminoles, rushing for 143 yards and catching nine passes for 54 yards, and he will go against a Wake Forest defense that ranks 114th nationally in points allowed (38.7 per game).
The Demon Deacons, who have dropped eight consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 1978, haven’t been much better on offense. They played last week without both of their starting guards, Joe Looney (ankle) and Michael Hoag (concussion), and converted wide receiver Michael Campanaro led the team in rushing.
Wake Forest will have its hands full this week with a Clemson defense that ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.4 per game). Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and ranks second in the country in tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC) at Miami (7-3, 5-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech can clinch its fourth Coastal Division title in six years with a victory in this matchup of former Big East powers. Miami needs a win to remain in contention for its first division title since joining the ACC.
The Hokies, who have won three of the last four meetings with the Hurricanes, enter this game with an eight-game winning streak. Virginia Tech forced six turnovers in its 26-10 victory at North Carolina last week, coaxing fifth-year senior T.J. Yates into a career-high-tying four interceptions. The Hokies will try to pick off passes from a true freshman this week, with Stephen Morris in line to start his third consecutive game as Jacory Harris recovers from a concussion he suffered at Virginia on Oct. 30.
Morris will be tested by a Virginia Tech defense that features NCAA interception leader Jayron Hosley (0.78 interceptions per game) and ranks seventh nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (100.9 rating). Miami’s ground game has flourished with Morris at quarterback, but Morris also has shown instant chemistry with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving yards (87.9 per game), has tied Michael Irvin’s school record for touchdown catches in a season (11) and has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.
Virginia Tech counters with a much more experienced passer in senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor’s task also will be a tough one. Miami ranks second nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency, third nationally in passing yards allowed (147.9 per game) and tied for ninth in the country in sacks (2.90 per game).
Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) at Maryland (7-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The winner stays alive in its quest for the Atlantic Division title, while the loser is eliminated from contention. Florida State enters the week with a half-game lead on Maryland and NC State in the standings, but the Terrapins and Wolfpack are in control. If Maryland or NC State wins its final two games — they play each other next week in the regular-season finale — that team wins the division. Still, next week’s game between the Wolfpack and Terrapins could turn out to be irrelevant with regard to determining the division winner. If North Carolina beats NC State on Saturday and Florida State follows up with a win over Maryland, the Seminoles will play in the ACC championship game.
Florida State remained in contention thanks to its 16–13 victory over Clemson last week, a game decided by Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard field goal as time expired. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel started and went the distance for the Seminoles in that game after Christian Ponder missed practice all week to receive medical attention for his sore right elbow. Doctors finally have figured out what was ailing Ponder — he had separated the fascia from a muscle near his elbow, not ruptured a bursa sac, as originally thought — and Ponder will start against the Terrapins after returning to practice at full speed.
The news is less positive about a couple of Ponder’s key weapons. Starting tailback Jermaine Thomas sprained his right knee against the Tigers and is out this week, leaving Chris Thompson and Ty Jones to split the carries. Wide receiver Willie Haulstead is questionable after suffering a concussion.
Maryland, meanwhile, enters this contest with three wins in its last four games after posting a 42-23 victory at Virginia last week. The Terrapins, who have lost three consecutive games against the Seminoles and 18 of 20 meetings overall, continue to come up with game-changing plays on both sides of the ball. Maryland ranks third in the country in turnover margin (plus-1.30 per game), a key reason for its resurgence after a 2-10 season in 2009.
The Terrapins have done an admirable job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien with an offensive line that was revamped because of injuries, but they face their toughest test of the season this week. Florida State, led by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Markus White, leads the nation in sacks (3.90 per game).