Tag Archives: Wake Forest

Overcoming Our Fear of College Baseball

Super Regionals are this weekend.  More of us should be tuning in than will be and I think that’s because we don’t know what we’re watching.  We don’t know what to be looking for.  Essentially, we don’t know how to enjoy college baseball.

Taking a look at our relationship with college basketball helps to illustrate my point.  Many people’s biggest beef with March Madness is that no one really knows who most of the teams are because we don’t watch the regular season.  Well, baseball has many more games and much less, almost no coverage on ESPN for you to stumble upon.

Generally speaking, we have zero idea what’s going on in the college baseball world until mid-June.  Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to care deeply about the eight teams that have made it to the College World Series?

Which is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, by the way.  Not that it’s not a nice place.  I’ve never been there myself actually, but I have heard nice things.  It’s just not what you’d exactly call a vacation destination.  That fact, however driven by perception it may be, exists all the same and does the CWS no favors with potential casual fans.

How It Works

So what exactly are we watching?  How does this tournament work?  Here’s a look:

Regionals are the first round, which happened last week.  64 teams are broken into 16 groups of four.  Those groups play a double elimination tournament until one team is left standing in each region.

That brings us to where we are now, the super regionals.  16 teams remain.  They’re broken up into eight pairs and now it’s a best of three series, starting this Friday.  Win twice and you’ve made it to Omaha and the College World Series.

Once there, the eight teams play another double elimination tournament until two are left.  Those two then play a best of three championship series.

Who We’re Watching

Oregon State is the prohibitive favorite, carrying with it an astounding 52-4 record this season.  Vanderbilt is the unlucky team that will face the Beavers.  The Commodores beat #21 Clemson twice at its own field to win the regional last week.  OSU’s lefty Luke Heimlich has a chance at being selected in the first round of this summer’s MLB draft.

The only team hosting a super regional that did not host a regional is Texas A&M.  To earn that distinction, the Aggies triumphed over that Baptist School in Waco, Texas, Iowa, and the host, Houston.  College Station will host because Davidson took down the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, twice last week to get here.  If you’re looking for a Cinderella, you’ve find her.  It’s Davidson.

#9 Long Beach State and #20 Cal State Fullerton square off to determine which school will represent the state of California in Omaha.  Fullerton beat their host #8 Stanford twice to advance from regionals.  The team affectionately known as the Dirtbags holds a 5-1 record in two series against Fullerton this season.

Louisville hosts Kentucky in an even bigger rivalry matchup.  With #7 and #11 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25, this is the most intriguing series, on paper, heading into the weekend.  The Cards and the Cats split a pair of separate meetings during the regular season.  Louisville lefty Brendan McKay is the consensus #2 draft prospect.

Sam Houston State took the long route to the super regionals, having played five games in the previous round.  With their backs against the wall, the Bearkats won three straight games in two days, including two over host Texas Tech, to earn this spot.  Their reward is a shot at #16 Florida State, which rebounded from losing the first game in its regional last week.

#6 TCU really had no trouble sweeping through its regional.  The Horned Frogs will play host to the #22 Bears of Missouri State, who snuck by Arkansas, winning two of three one-run games between the two sides last weekend.  Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger has scouts excited about his future.

It’s an SEC affair with #17 Mississippi State traveling to #3 LSU.  The Tigers won their three games by a combined 18 runs, while the Bulldogs beat their in-state rival, #10 Southern Miss, twice on Monday to advance.  LSU’s Alex Lange is another top prospect to look out for.

If you pay attention to such things, you’ll notice that six of the 16 teams left are members of the SEC.  It must mean more down there or something.  That sixth SEC representative is Florida.  The #4 Gators welcome in #14 Wake Forest.  Florida’s 6’5” pitcher Alex Faedo has been getting a lot of mention as a potential top ten pick.

So, there’s a bit of info that will hopefully spark your interest and get you to check some of these games out.  The best part is there are games on all weekend long.  With start times of noon, three, six, and nine, you’ll have at least one game to watch basically all day long for three days straight.  Saturday is even better, with two games in each of those four time slots.  And if any of these series are tied after two games, we get even more games on Sunday and Monday.

Join me in flipping on the ESPNs this weekend as we get ready for the College World Series.  Doing so will help us all with our apparent fear of college baseball.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

WakeyLeaks, not a Louisville Problem

Another day another scandal here at the University of Louisville. Luckily this one is not a university problem.  The WakeyLeaks scandal (if you can even call it that) is a Wake Forest problem. It is not UofL’s job to inform the team when one of its radio broadcasters is handing out offensive game plans to the opposing teams.  Is there integrity involved? Yes. And should Lonnie Galloway have gone straight to Bobby Petrino and told him what just happened? Sure.  But that still doesn’t mean it’s UofL’s problem nor should this even be a talking point for UofL.

Virginia Tech has come out and also stated that the same man, Tommy Elrod, gave them plays back in 2014, and Army said it received plays twice from Elrod in 2014 and 2016.  No proof has come forward to show that any of the teams used the plays to their advantage. Judging by the first three-quarters of the UofL vs Wake Forest game I would’ve guessed Wake Forest had UofL’s playbook by the way it locked down Lamar Jackson and company.

UofL’s response to the allegations was strong and swift, and sent a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated on this team, which is good.  Though it’s not a problem. The fact of the matter is that Galloway did accept plays knowing good and well what could happen if he got caught.  The suspension of Galloway for the Citrus Bowl is the correct punishment, focusing on the individuals’ actions rather than making an entire team suffer.

Take notes UofL Basketball.  The $25,000 fine, which is the maximum fine under ACC bylaws, seems a bit lofty especially without proof of the plays being used and the fact that the plays were more handed over than requested.  That being said, UofL will just accept the fine because big school, big money, and go about preparing for LSU in the Citrus Bowl.

All in all I believe this situation was handled well by all parties and the punishments are to the correct degree.  This is one of those instances that this may be a story now but until more information is found or another angle comes into play, this should all be over and forgotten in a months’ time.  It also helps that this is happening at the same time as the Joe Mixon tape (the tape is extremely graphic, viewer discretion advised) being released. I’m guessing that tape will continue to get a much larger uproar.

 

Image:FlickrMedia

Why Lamar Jackson Will Undoubtedly Win the Heisman

The Heisman race this year has been more competitive and talked about than in recent years because of the amount of standout athletes that have taken their talents to the next level in college football. While all the contenders have their cases as to why they should win, at the end of the day there is one man who stands above all the rest: Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson is a freak of nature, and no one else can be compared with him, not this year, not last year and not for many more years to come. Statistically speaking he is a literal record breaker, both at the FBS level and at the university level. After the game against Boston College Jackson now becomes the first player in UofL history to break 1,000 yards rushing at the quarterback position. He has also broken the total offense record at UofL previously set by Teddy Bridgewater. With 47 touchdowns on the season and one regular season game left plus a bowl game, Lamar could be on pace to come close to the FBS record for most touchdowns in a single season set by Colt Brennan in 2006 with 63. If we do a little math that’s averaging eight touchdowns per game to tie the record. For most quarterbacks it would be a crazy number but with the talent of Lamar Jackson anything is possible.

These last two games and next week’s game also play a huge factor for Lamar’s Heisman chances because all three of these teams have winning records going into their games with Louisville, Wake Forest and Houston are already bowl eligible with Kentucky needing just one more win (over Austin Peay) to get there. This is important because out of the nine teams that UofL has played already only two are bowl eligible and one of those (Clemson) was a loss.

So, with these last two games and next week’s game coming up against teams who are above .500 (Kentucky should be 6-5 after this weekend) this will prove to be Louisville’s toughest stretch of games so far. Lamar may have not had the most dominating performance against Wake Forest but 145 yards passing and 153 more on the ground and a touchdown is still a decent performance against the 44th ranked defense in the nation. The real test for Jackson was against the 9th ranked Houston defense last night. Jackson ended with 211 yards passing and 33 more rushing as well as a touchdown in the hopes of all but solidifying his Heisman campaign.

To put this all in perspective let’s look at another dual-threat Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Manziel had 5,116 yards for his 2012 Heisman winning season and 46 touchdowns. On the other hand, Lamar Jackson, with one game left in the season, has 4,476 yards and 47 touchdowns. That means that, with one game left this season, Lamar already is responsible for more toushdowns than Manziel, even if he may fall just short of Manziel’s total yardage. If that’s not enough then why not look at another similar quarterback, Cam Newton? Newton had 4,369 yards and 51 touchdowns for his Heisman-winning season. So with one game left Lamar would need four more touchdowns to tie Newton’s number and is already ahead of Newton in total yards.

In conclusion, Lamar Jackson’s season has been by all standards incredible and a pleasure to watch. Unless some monumental collapse were to happen in this last game, Jackson is still the front-runner for the Heisman and will stay that way all the way to the ballots, even without a shot at a national title.

 

Photo: Wikimedia

Virginia Lays an Egg in Winston

Did you ever have one of those days on the golf course when you snap hook your first drive out of bounds on the first hole? The hooks plague you until you fix it with a power slice into the trees. No matter what you do, it’s wrong and the things you look forward to the most are the last putt on the 18th green and cocktails in the 19th hole. Ever have one of those days? Kurt Benkert had one of those days on Saturday against Wake Forest. 

I am not here to say that Benkert is not our best option at quarterback. He has a cannon arm. He can avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. Some of his throws are nothing short of spectacular with a high degree of difficulty and perfect execution. Then there are days like Saturday.

Benkert had a dreadful day. His throws were erratic, at best. His decision-making was the only thing worse than his passing accuracy. While the offensive line didn’t have one of its best days either, at least three of the five sacks yielded were the result of Benkert holding the ball too long and not feeling pressure in the pocket. He tried to force difficult passes when he had yards of running room in front of him. Later in the game, when he realized he’d missed multiple first down runs by forcing passes that fell incomplete, he started to take off running, when there was no gain in sight.

It was simply one of those days. Benkert couldn’t do anything right, so he started to press. I mistakenly thought that his first interception throwing into triple coverage would be his last. I was wrong. A second pass into triple coverage that had no chance for success was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Bad decision, bad throw, bad result. Game over.

The problem for Virginia is that the margin for error in 2016 is razor thin. If any team cannot afford erratic quarterback play, it is Virginia. The depth charts are shallow. Multiple injuries have forced too many freshman into prime time minutes. Some have made remarkable plays that give Cavalier fans glimmers of hope for the future. The problem with freshman however, is freshman mistakes. For all the hope the first year kids have provided, they also get sucked into fakes, miss coverages, and blow routes. They are talented, but they are freshmen.

It is completely unfair for the burden of the program to rest on the shoulders of Virginia’s quarterback in his first year as a starter. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Since the Oregon game, when the defense grew up in the second half, the key variable for Virginia’s win/loss margin has been quarterback play.

Without the two interceptions which resulted in 10 points for Wake Forest, Virginia gets a nice comeback win on the road when it wasn’t hitting on all cylinders. That’s what good teams do. ‘Bama didn’t have its “A-game” against LSU, but they left Baton Rouge with a win. Virginia endured a long bus ride home with the all remaining hope for a bowl appearance gone. That’s what rebuilding programs do.

The cherry on the sundae for Benkert’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the final putt that lipped out of the hole on 18 was the sack on the last play of the game. Working for an unlikely Hail Mary to tie the game, taking a sack was the worst possible outcome. It was the final in a string of bad decisions. Virginia fans hope that we left all the bad mojo in Winston Saturday, with a beatable Miami team on the docket for this coming week.

As tough as this game was for Benkert, there is no reason not to continue with him at quarterback. When he has been good, he has been very good. He has the tools. He has the moxie. Both of the options to replace him are seniors. Bronco’s priorities this year are: 1) Laying the foundational pieces that will turn the program into a winner in the coming years, 2) Developing existing players and recruiting new talent that fit into his systems – systems that produced winners at BYU for 10 consecutive years, and 3) Winning games in 2016.

Benkert is part of the foundation that Bronco is laying. Sometimes when laying a foundation, players who are new starters lay an egg. Unfortunately, in 2016, if Benkert lays an egg, Virginia loses. I felt bad for Benkert on Saturday. He never quit fighting, but it was simply one of those days when the best outcome for him was to be on the bus riding home, thinking about winning out the rest way.

E-mail David at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

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Florida State’s defense up to the task

After watching and analyzing Florida State’s first few games it has become clear that while the offense has received most of the attention from people, the Seminole defense is what the team wants their identity to be.

Between the transferring in of quarterback Everett Golson, and running back Dalvin Cook entering his sophomore season, the offense garnered a lot of attention based on the skilled position players and the potential that the offense had. All while the defense has been a bit of an afterthought. Through three games, the Seminole defense quietly ranks in the top-10 in points allowed, and yards allowed.

I am as guilty as anybody of overlooking the Florida State defense. I was caught up in the Golson and Cook hype and was imagining an offense that was unstoppable and I thought the Noles could outscore anybody they played. It’s safe to say I got a little ahead of myself.

The most recent game against Boston College displayed what the identity of this Seminoles team is and what the recipe for success should be going forward. The offense struggled mightily against a good defense in Boston College who currently rank as the 2nd best defense in the nation in points allowed. Aside from the first drive of the game – one that was probably scripted before the game – the Seminoles’ offense couldn’t get anything going, literally anything. While the offense was searching for answers, the defense took control of the game by not allowing Boston College to score a single point during the entire game, and contributed by scoring the game-sealing touchdown on a fumble return forced by vocal leader Terrance Smith, and returned for a score by the best player on the defense, Jalen Ramsey.

Jalen Ramsey takes a fumble to the endzone providing one of the Seminoles' two TDs
Jalen Ramsey takes a fumble to the endzone providing one of the Seminoles’ two TDs

For people that aren’t Florida State fans, the game against BC was probably boring and unimpressive, but what happened during the game was indicative of what will bring the Seminoles success this season. As a result of the game the Seminoles’ defense will be brought to the forefront, and will help shift offensive concerns away from Golson. All of the sudden, the offense has become a concern for the Seminoles, while the defense has done nothing but prove that they are the unit the team should rely on going forward.

With a couple of high-flying offenses on the Seminoles’ schedule coming up against Clemson and Georgia Tech in the future, it is reassuring that the defense has already had a game that they can hang their hats on.

The Seminoles are on the road after their bye week to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at 3:30pm on Saturday.

Wake vs NC State: The Wake County Super Bowl Continues…

As fall fades into the cold of winter, some college football teams and fans are checking Twitter on Tuesdays to figure out if their school has made a move up the rankings or maybe even cracked into the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff. Others are scanning bowl predictions to see where they may be vacationing after the Holidays. Here in Wake County, we’re just looking for a win.

Back before Old Wake Forest Road was just called Wake Forest Road, traversing from downtown Raleigh to the then rural Wake Forest, and the Demon Deacons up and moved the campus towards greener pastures in Winston-Salem, aided by a little tobacco money no doubt, Wake vs. State was a Wake County rivalry. Some may even say… The Wake County Super Bowl.

Old Timers recall when the first Monday after Easter was a de facto Wake County Holiday because everyone took off work for the Wake Forest vs. N.C. State baseball game. Back before stadium lights were the norm, the city of Raleigh shut down so everyone could attend the day baseball game between the two major colleges in Wake County, the Demon Deacons and the Wolfpack. The teams were rivals then and still are. Just right now, they are two schools looking for a win.

The 105th consecutive meeting between the two programs sees each school needing to win for different reasons. Wake (2-7, 0-5) and N.C. State (5-5, 1-5) enter the game with unique needs.

State needs a win for bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack enter the contest with two chances left against in-state rivals Wake and UNC to gain bowl eligibility. A bowl berth would help Coach Dave Doeren demonstrate he has the program trending in the right direction after going 0-fer the ACC in his inaugural campaign.

Wake needs a win for pride. The Demon Deacons are in the midst of an 0-fer the ACC of their own in Coach Dave Clawson’s first year. Wake has played some close games recently with tight contests into the fourth quarter but has yet to find a way to get their first conference win.

The two coaches have not coached against each other in North Carolina, but they are familiar foes from their MAC days with Coach Clawson at Bowling Green and Coach Doeren at Northern Illinois. In fact, the two head coaches have won the last two MAC Championships with Doeren in 2012 and Clawson in 2013.

A unique trend in the series is that the home team has won 7 straight times and 11 of the last 12 duels. The last road team to win in this series was Wake Forest winning in Raleigh in 2006.

Speaking of home teams, the Saturday contest will be somewhat of a homecoming for Wake Forest WR Matt James. The senior flanker hails from Raleigh and is a Sanderson High School product. In fact, it looks like James has spent some time on the field at Carter-Finley Stadium.

http://instagram.com/p/vRcExNC5GJ/

We’ll see if the Deacons can maintain the top hats over the Wolfpack after last year’s win as the Wake County Super Bowl continues…

SPRAGOO’S SPOTS

For the Wake faithful either making their way to Raleigh, or in many cases just enjoying some time out in their hometown, here’s my recs for the game.

The best new restaurant in Raleigh right now is Bida Manda. The tinge of heat on the Laotian food (think Thai with flare) will keep you coming back for more. I’m a pad thai man who also loves the pork belly soup.

If you are looking for a place with a view to enjoy a cocktail after the game, check out the newly renovated Skye Tower Restaurant and Lounge at the top of the old Clarion Hotel. Yeah, the cylindrical one. It’s now a Holiday Inn, but the views are the same. Definitely a great place to take in the growing Capitol City skyline.

Proposal For a New Conference

traditionConference realignment, you thought that discussion was over for a while. Well, rumors are circulating that the Big 12 is looking to expand. More specifically, they are looking eastward and that East Carolina is in the mix. I have no insight or information that the rumors are true, only that they are out there.
However, the rumors give me an open door for why there should be conference realignment, but not one where ECU goes to the Big 12. Conferences should be geographically compact, on an equal footing in the strength of their teams and have similar athletic goals and traditions. As far as East Carolina, the conference would consist of East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt.
This is an improvement for all of the schools in terms of travel. The AAC spans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida to Connecticut. The ACC has Miami and Boston in its fold. West Virginia is a Big 12 member and travels to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa for its conference games. Those are long road trips for Mountaineer fans.
East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt are football schools. Basketball, for the most part, is something you do because it is too cold to play football. All of the schools have a passionate fan base. Admittedly, West Virginia might have a bigger stadium than Marshall, but their little brother is growing up and deserves a chance to compete on an even level. Arguably, East Carolina could not have beaten Clemson, West Virginia, or Georgia Tech on a regular basis in the past, but a new day has arrived in Greenville. The Pirates’ success this year is only part of a continued pattern of growth that has been occurring since the 1970’s. Pat Dye, Ed Emory, Bill Lewis, Steve Logan, Skip Holtz and now Ruffin McNeill have all lead ECU to a new level in football.
A fair question is why would North Carolina State, Clemson, West Virginia and Georgia Tech leave established conferences with lucrative television deals to start a new conference. There are three reasons. First, the conference would be more geographically compact. Second, other than the SEC, the new conference would be best college football played in the east, other than the Southeastern Conference. Third, the schools in the new conference are without major scandals. It is my contention, that college football must bring order to its house and the aforementioned schools are not front page violators.
There is a basis for a North Carolina centric conference since there are six FBS schools within the borders of North Carolina, yet only ECU and NC State are a fit for the new conference with the other schools that I would place in the conference.
Appalachian is only in its first year of competition in the FBS, but does have a strong tradition in football. They are not ready competitively, but the question can be revisited in the coming years.
Wake Forest and Duke are basketball schools and do not have a history of continued success in football. David Cutcliffe, Duke’s head coach, is an outstanding coach and got Duke to the ACC Championship game in 2013. However, Cutcliffe is the exception at Duke, and even he has not been able to build strong fan support based on attendance at Duke’s home games. This year the average attendance at Duke’s home games is only 25,537. When Cutcliffe leaves, so will Duke’s football success.
Wake Forest has similar issues. They had an excellent coach in Jim Grobe and some success. However, Grobe could only use chicken wire and duct-tape for so long before the Wake Forest program descended in the number of wins they produced. I do not mean to disparage Duke or Wake; but they simply have not produced a winning tradition in football.
Then there is UNC. I remember as a child in the 1960’s coming to understand that football at UNC was mediocre. However, that was okay because UNC, and the ACC, were about academics and integrity. If maintaining standards meant a so-so football team, then it meant a so-so football team.
Unfortunately, UNC is now about no show classes, drug dealers providing cars for a UNC athlete and inappropriate contact with sports agents and much more. However, the football is still mediocre.
On a side note, as a proud North Carolinian, I wish leadership that was provided by people like William Friday in the 1950’s and 60’s was still present at UNC. Friday was the President of UNC when a cheating scandal arose at the popular Dixie Classic Basketball Tournament; he cancelled the tournament. William Friday’s name was synonymous with integrity and education.
I am an ECU fan and to borrow the cliché, “I bleed purple and gold”. However, as a North Carolinian, I am pulling for UNC to make the in-depth reforms that are needed so that the university can return to its once honored position in college athletics and as a worthy opponent. I think we all know what William Friday would do; the question remains, does the current leadership at UNC have the courage to do what is needed. The death penalty was imposed on SMU athletics by the NCAA. Perhaps, UNC should examine the record and do what William Friday had the courage to do and not wait for the NCAA.
I am ready for a conference that plays quality football and still understands college football is not a business. It has to be responsible and pay its bills, but consistently shipping kids across the country to play a game is of questionable financial value, and it is not good for the academic success of the athletes. Also, college football has to stand for something more than money and the win-loss record.

Syracuse Must Spring An October Upset

With the Syracuse football team suffering back-to-back losses, and a brutal October schedule ahead of them, the Orange are approaching a danger zone, as it pertains to reaching a bowl game for the fourth time in five years. At 2-2, there is a distinct possibility that the Orange could fall to 3-5 by the time their schedule starts to get somewhat more manageable in November, leaving them with a small margin of error over the final month of the season. The only remedy for this would be for Syracuse to pull off an upset over one of the three big-time opponents on its schedule in October: Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson.
In November, the Orange will play home games against N.C. State and Duke before finishing the season with road games against Pittsburgh and Boston College. It stands to reason that Syracuse can split those four games, as all four games will likely be tossups on paper. However, without pulling an upset in October, the Orange will have to win three games in November in order to qualify for a bowl, assuming Syracuse wins an October road game against Wake Forest, a team they should be favored to beat. The Orange pulled off a 4th quarter comeback in its final regular season game last year to reach a bowl game, but to avoid putting themselves in a similar situation this year, Syracuse must pull off a surprise upset in October.
In order to pull off an October upset over Louisville, Florida State or Clemson, the Syracuse offense must show considerable improvement. The Orange defense has been fine and done its part to put the team in position to win games. Outside of allowing a few big plays the last couple of weeks, which are bound to happen to any defense that’s as aggressive as the Syracuse defense, the Orange have been solid defensively. The issue is the inconsistency of the Syracuse offense, which has they’ve failed to finish drives and capitalize on opportunities. Now, the Orange offense appears to be banged up, with a slew of injuries, both small and significant, to several key players. But to pull of the upset they need, the Orange will have to overcome those injuries and start putting points on the board with more regularity in support of a defense that’s held up its end of the bargain.
The best chance Syracuse has to get the win they covet could be this week at home against Louisville. The Cardinals are 4-1 on the season, but they’ve had some ups and downs this year and are coming off a rather unimpressive victory of Wake Forest. Bobby Petrino’s team may also have to rely on true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon if Will Gardner doesn’t return from injury by Friday night. An aggressive Syracuse defense inside the Carrier Dome against a true freshman quarterback making his second career start is a scenario that would certainly favor the Orange. However, Louisville has one of the best defenses in the country through the first month of the season, which could make it tough for the Orange offense to get going, as they try to pull off an upset of the Cardinals.
The next opportunity for an upset will come the following week at home against Florida State. Most would have counted this one in the loss column for Syracuse before the season started, but the Seminoles have looked a little vulnerable this year and haven’t exactly looked the part of the top team in the country. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the Orange will have to play close to perfect just to have a chance against Florida State. There is some glimmer of hope in that the Seminoles could take Syracuse lightly or look ahead to a showdown with Notre Dame the following week, which could open the door for the Orange to make things interesting.
Finally, the Orange will close out October with a trip to Clemson, which is arguably the toughest road venue in the ACC. The Tiger’s defense hasn’t quite lived up to its preseason billing, but it does return many of the players that made it difficult for Syracuse to put points on the board last season against Clemson. While this game is nearly a month away, it could be another game that puts too much pressure on the Syracuse defense if the Orange offense doesn’t show substantial improvement between now and then. Otherwise, this could be the toughest game on Syracuse’s October schedule.
Mathematically, it’s possible for Syracuse to reach six wins and become bowl eligible without beat Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson. With a 2-2 record at the end of September, Syracuse can reach a bowl game with a 4-4 record in ACC play, which is the same record they had last season. However, without pulling off an upset over one of the ACC’s top teams in October, the Orange will have a substantial amount of work to do in November. Moreover, it may be difficult for the Orange to overcome the psychological burden of entering November with a 3-5 record, especially if they suffer one or more blowout losses in October. Thus, for Syracuse to create a manageable schedule in November and give themselves some confidence after three sub-par performances over the first four games of the season, the Orange must find a way to pull off an upset at some point in October; otherwise, Syracuse runs the risk of their season getting away from them.

Ranking Syracuse's Opponents on 2014 Football Schedule

The college football offseason is about to reach its unceremonious conclusion, as it’s officially game week. For the Syracuse Orange, the season starts Friday night with a home game against Villanova. It will be the first game in what many believe to be one of the tougher schedules in the ACC, which is why Scott Shafer set expectations for the season at just eight wins, and not a more ambitious number like 10. To get an idea of just how difficult the schedule Syracuse will play in 2014 is, here is a ranking of the 12 opponents the Orange will have this season.
 
12. Villanova – Like it or not, just about every power conference team plays an FCS school at some point in the season, although it would have been tough for Syracuse to schedule a better one than Villanova. The Wildcats will be the easiest team Syracuse plays this year, but they’ve had a winning record in seven or the last eight seasons, including an FCS national championship in 2009, so they’re far from a pushover. After giving Boston College problems in the season opener last year, Villanova could challenge the Orange and keep the game close for at least two or three quarters.
 
11. Wake Forest – The Orange shutout Wake Forest in the Carrier Dome last year, and the Demon Deacons could be even worse this year, as they’ll have a new head coach, a new quarterback, and no apparent replacement for their top offensive playmaker, Michael Campanaro. Obviously, there are no guarantees going on the road, but this is a game Syracuse should win easily.
 
10. N.C. State – N.C. State should be better than they were last season, especially if Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett provides an answer at quarterback. But in the second year of a rebuilding project under Dave Doren, they shouldn’t be improved enough to win in the Carrier Dome if the Orange play their best, especially after Syracuse handled them last year. The Wolf Pack may not role over, but at home, this is a game in which the Orange should be able to take care of business.
 
9. Central Michigan – A road game against Central Michigan is going to be tougher than people think. The Chippewas carry some momentum into 2014 after winning five of their last seven games in 2013, and they have a team that could compete for a spot in the MAC Championship Game this season. With Scott Shafer and much of the coaching staff having a history in the MAC, the Orange won’t be taking this team lightly, which should help them get off to a 2-0 start.
 
8. Boston College – Steve Addazio did a great job of turning the Eagles around last year and getting them to a bowl game in his first season in Chestnut Hill, but B.C. is due to take a step back this year. The Eagles have to replace quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams, and wide receiver Alex Amidon, and those three provided most of the offense last season. The Eagles will be looking for redemption after the Orange stole last year’s meeting in the Carrier Dome in the last minute, but this is a winnable road game for Syracuse to close out the regular season.
 
7. Maryland – This won’t be the same Maryland team that the Orange handled last season in College Park, especially on offense, where the Terrapins were missing several key players due to injury for much of 2013. The Syracuse secondary should be challenged in this game, as this matchup should produce a few more points than last season’s game between the Orange and Terrapins did.
 
6. Pittsburgh – Syracuse and Pittsburgh always seem to play close, hard-fought games; Big East style games if you will. A single point has decided each of the last two meetings between these teams, although Syracuse has just one win in the series since 2004. The Orange will be making their first trip to Pittsburgh since 2011, so the Panthers will be excited to avoid seeing the Carrier Dome this season, while Syracuse needs to work on evening this series out in a late-season game that could go either way and will have great importance for both teams.
 
5. Louisville – The Orange pulled off a major upset the last time the Cardinals came to the Carrier Dome, and while Louisville probably won’t be a top-10 team this time around, Syracuse will most likely be a home underdog. Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong are both gone, so this will be a much different team from the one Syracuse dominated in 2012, but there’s still a lot of talent on the Louisville roster, and this isn’t exactly Bobby Petrino’s first rodeo. Louisville is probably the more talented team, but a Friday night game in the Carrier Dome could help to balance things out a bit and give Syracuse another shot to upset the Cardinals.
 
4. Duke – Duke football is a laughing stock no more, as David Cutcliffe has turned things around, and even took the Blue Devils to the ACC Championship Game last season. Like Syracuse, Duke is one of the few teams in the ACC that returns its starting quarterback, which should help put the Blue Devils in the mix to win the ACC Coastal and return to the conference title game. Syracuse should get some advantage from playing at home in this game, but the Blue Devils are one of the more talented ACC teams the Orange will play this season, especially on offense.
 
3. Notre Dame – Syracuse may be New York’s college team, but with Notre Dame’s fan base, playing in the Meadowlands will be a de-factor road game for the Orange against a pre-season top-25 team. The loss of a few key players to suspension could open the door for Syracuse just a little to pull off the upset. However, there should be no mistaking the fact that the Irish are the more talented team and will be considerable favorites. If nothing else, this game is a good early-season barometer to see how the Orange stack up with a top-25 team.
 
2. Clemson – There may be no more intimidating venue in the ACC than Clemson’s Death Valley. Syracuse won’t have to contend with the combination of Tajh Boy and Sammy Watkins that torched them last year, but Dabo Swinney still has a roster that’s far more talented than the one Scott Shafer will bring down south with him. The Orange will have a realistic chance to win most of their road games, but this is by far the toughest away game of the season.
 
1. Florida State – On paper, you might as well mark this down as a loss for the Orange. You never want to completely eliminate the possibility of an upset inside the Carrier Dome, as it’s been done before, but this is a game in which Syracuse will have to play perfect just to be within striking distance in the 4th quarter against the best team in the ACC and a team that many favor to repeat as national champions.

ACC Year-In-Review

What in the name of Joseph Smith does Provo, Utah have to do with the Atlantic Coast? Well, it means nothing to the coast itself, but for some reason, it’s where we begin our Year-In-Review of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The made a trip east to Virgina, like Oregon, but unlike the Ducks, the Cougars flew back west with a loss to the Cavaliers in their back pockets. Five weeks later, the Atlantic Coast, the conference that is, came to them in Provo, but it was Georgia Tech taking the “L”, thus proving there’s nothing to the transitive property things. College Football is still an Any Given Saturday type of deal, once you look past the top of a top-heavy conference.

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That’s not the type of non-conference play that gets everyone’s attention. No, the headlines are reserved for North Carolina’s season-opening loss at South Carolina or Clemson’s big win over Georgia; we knew so little back then. Big East refugees Pittsburgh and Syracuse were welcomed to the conference by its top dogs, and were rudely introduced to ACC Football by Florida State and Clemson. Miami and Virginia Tech, Big East refugees of yesteryear, pulled the wool over our eyes for a good chunk of the season, before revealing who they really were. And, they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling Duke Blue Devils. Duke was a surprise, to be sure, but not enough of a surprise, as evidenced by their performance in the post-season to join the ranks of the top in this top-heavy conference.

That’s not to say that National Coach of the Year David Cudcliffe’s team wasn’t worthy of attention and praise for the rise of their program, but it would have been nice for the conference to see the Blue Devils notch the “W” in the Chick-fil-a Bowl over Texas A&M. The conference had to settle for a National Championship and a clean sweep of the BCS bowls that invited their teams. Clemson knocked off an Ohio State team that was arguably desinted for the National Championship before being tripped in the Big Ten Championship, and then Florida State beat an Auburn team that actually qualified for the National Championship. Of course, we tend to notice the games at the end, but a season is not made by one or two games in January. Here are ten games that shaped the ACC in 2013.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech

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SEPTEMBER 21 The Tar Heels went to Atlanta with a 1-1 record, and no one was really sure what to think of North Carolina at that point. They lost that opener at South Carolina, but many figured that the Gamecocks were a pretty solid team, even without Jadaveon Clowney playing an integral role in their 27-10 victory over UNC. A win over Middle Tennessee at home in Week 2 was to be expected, but a game at Georgia Tech would prove to be a legitimate litmus test. As for the Yellow Jackets, they were 2-0 with wins over Elon and Duke; back in September, Duke was only a slightly better opponent on paper than the Elon Phoenix, so Paul Johnson’s team had a thing or two to prove as well.

Seeking their first win at Georgia Tech since 1997, the Tar Heels got out to a 13-0 lead on tight end Eric Ebron’s 19-yard touchdown reception from Bryn Renner at the end of the first quarter. Ebron would lead all receivers in the game with 6 catches for 108 yards. Renner, who threw for 218 yards, found Sean Tapley from 24 yards out in the second quarter to give the visiting Tar Heels a 20-7 lead, but that would be it for Larry Fedora’s team on this day.

Despite their struggles to hold on to the football in the rain, Georgia Tech was able to rally back, starting with Vad Lee’s 21-yard scoring strike as time was running out in the first half, which made it a 20-14 game. As with most Georgia Tech games since Paul Johnson brought his triple-option offense to Atlanta, it was all about rushing yards and the Yellow Jackets had 324 of them. Robert Godhigh had 100 of them on 9 carries, one better than David Sims, who did score Tech’s first and last points of the game. Quarterback Vad Lee, who completed only seven passes, ran for 55 yards on the day, but it was a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put his team up for good.

The win would be their third in a row, but they’d lose their next three games, before winning the next three after that, demonstrating how streaky and enigmatic they were in 2013.

Final:Georgia Tech 28 North Carolina 20

North Carolina State at Wake Forest

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OCTOBER 5 There’s no shame in losing to Clemson, right? For first-year head coach Dave Doeren, it was the only blemish on North Carolina State’s abbreviated resume, but Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe might have asked you how ashamed to be about the Clemson defeat, bundled with losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe. Doeren, the Northern Illinois defector, was looking for his first ACC win in Winston-Salem, where the Wolf Pack had not won in about 12 years.

It appeared he might have been on his way to breaking the school’s losing streak at Wake and picking up that first conference win when Pete Thomas hit Quintin Payton for six, capping off a 10-play, 66-yard drive with 39 seconds left in the first half, which gave NC State a 10-7 lead. However, the Demon Deacons weren’t content to sit on the ball at their own 25 after the kickoff. Wake quarterback Tanner Price hit Spencer Bishop for 54 yards, putting the ball on the NC State 10, and three plays later, Price found Michael Campanaro for the score and the lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.

NC State was held to a single field goal in the second half, and Campanaro’s second touchdown catch of the day, from 27 yards out with 10 minutes to play, capped the scoring. Campanaro ended the day with 12 catches for 153 yards, aiding Price to a 268-yard, 3 touchdown day in the air.

The wins were few and far between for Wake Forest in 2013, but this one looked better than their prior wins over Presbyterian and Army. They actually picked up their second and final conference win a week later against Maryland, but it went downhill after that, though they managed to play both Duke and Vanderbilt tough after suffering a 59-3 home loss to Florida State. Grobe stepped down as Wake’s head coach after the season, and it will be Dave Clawson, formerly of Bowling Green taking over in Winston-Salem. As for Doeren, a MAC champ himself, and that first ACC win, he’s going to have to hope it comes in 2014, as the Wolf Pack lost all but one of their remaining games by double-digits to go 0-8 in conference play.

Final:Wake Forest 28 North Carolina State 13

Virginia at Maryland

OCTOBER 12 Well, a 19-16 win over BYU in the opener suggested that it might not be more of the same for Virginia’s fourth-year head coach Mike London, coming a 4-8 effort in 2012, but an expected pounding from the Oregon Ducks at home and an expected cruise to victory over the VMI meant we’d learn about about the Cavaliers, beginning in late September.  A pathetic showing at Pittsburgh and another shellacking at home, this time with Ball State being rude guest, left Virginia in desperate need of a good showing against Maryland at College Park.  A week earlier, the Terps were undefeated and ranked #25 in the country, but were seriously exposed by Florida State in Tallahassee; a 63-0 defeat will make voters regret ever casting your name, I don’t care who you lose to.

Virginia leaned heavily on Alec Vozenilek, their kicker in the first half, and his three field goals, the last coming with 19 seconds left in the first half, gave the Cavaliers a 16-14 lead at the break.  The problem for London’s squad was Maryland countering their field goals with touchdowns.  Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who ran 14 times for 88 yards on the day, scored both of his touchdowns in the first half, the second one put the home team up 14-6, but Virginia was able to close the gap to one point on a 4-yard touchdown pass from David Watford to Jake McGee.  Khalek Shepherd’s 44-yard run put the visitors in a position for the score that made it 14-13 game, in favor of Maryland.

In the third quarter, it was Maryland’s turn to settle for field goals.  Brad Craddock hit two, but they were enough to give Randy Edsall’s team a 20-16 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.  Virginia responded with 10 straight points in the final quarter, the second coming on a Vozenilek’s fourth of the day from 26 yards out, which put them up 26-20.  However, in the end it was Caleb Rowe, the Terrapins backup quarterback who threw for 332 yards in relief of the concussed CJ Brown on this day, that found the endzone for the first time with about five minutes left in the game.  His 12-yard completion to tight end David Stinebaugh gave Maryland a one-point lead on Braddock’s PAT, but this one went to the wire.

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Vozenilek had a chance at five field goals, after attempts from 28, 18, 27, and 26 were all true, but his 42-yard attempt sailed wide right as time ran out.  The win was a nice rebound for Edsall and company, making them 5-1 on the season, and hey, no shame in losing to the National Champ, not that we knew that yet.  It was, however, short-lived; Maryland proved to be very average down the stretch, dropping their bowl game to Marshall and finishing 7-6.  As for Virginia, this was their best shot at a conference win, as they didn’t come within ten points of any opponent the rest of the way, finishing 2-10 and somehow retaining London for 2014.

Final: Maryland 27 Virginia 26

Boston College at Clemson

OCTOBER 12 Down the Atlantic Coast a ways, you had a #3 Clemson team trying not to look ahead of Boston College, with undefeated Florida State on their way to town.  On the other hand, Boston College was a very good football team in 2013, even if it didn’t exactly translate into the win column for them.  Unfortunately, no one was ready to hand the Eagles any trophies for wins over Villanova, Wake Forest and Army.  I know it sounds like a broken record by now, but no shame in losing to Florida State, especially in the manner which took them down; Florida State needed to some work in the fourth quarter to secure the 48-34 win in Chestnut Hill on September 28th.  However, it was their other loss, a 35-7 no-show by BC at USC earlier in the month that came to the forefront when those same Trojans lost their game and later their head coach after a humiliating loss in Tempe on that same night.

Despite getting very little out of their superstar running back Andre Williams, 24 carries for 70 yards, Steve Addazio’s team nearly shocked the #3 Tigers in their own place.  Myles Willis, BC’s other back, scored the only touchdown of the first half and the Eagles took a 7-3 lead into the break.  Clemson finally answered in the middle of the third quarter, when the always reliable tandem of Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins connected for 48 yards and the score, to put Dabo Swinney’s team up 14-10, a lead they held for 20 seconds.

On their very next play from scrimmage, BC got it back, when Chase Rettig hit Alex Amidon for 69 yards, and BC regained the lead.  Boyd, who threw for 334 yards, gave the Tigers the lead back with his legs, scoring from six yards out in the fourth quarter, putting Clemson up 17-14, but the tension remained high in Death Valley until Tony Steward hit Rettig, who only completed 13 passes, and the nation’s sack leader did the scoop and score, putting the game away.

Boston College fell to 3-3 with the loss, and things didn’t get better after by week, when they lost 34-10 at North Carolina on October 26th.  Things settled down a bit after that, when the Eagles reeled off four consecutive wins.  They dropped their regular season finale to Syracuse in heartbreaking fashion without the services of Williams, who ran for 2177 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, then were soundly beaten by Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona Wildcats in the Advocare V100 Bowl to finish the year 7-6.  One thing is for sure, this Boston College team should have been better than 7-6.

Final: Clemson 24 Boston College 14

Miami (FL) at North Carolina

OCTOBER 17 The biggest thing about this game between the undefeated Canes and 1-4 Heels was its time-slot, a Thursday night game on ESPN.  They’d shown promise in close losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and you might even commend their effort against a much better South Carolina team on Opening Night, but there’s a reality to the fact that they couldn’t beat anyone other than Middle Tennessee on their early slate of games.  Miami, on the other hand, was a setting themselves up to be a quiet giant with big wins early on, most especially their 21-16 win over a Florida team that we all gave too much credit to early.  

This was no walk in the park for Al Golden’s bunch, who needed to battle every step of the way.  They were the walking wounded in this game, losing star running back Duke Johnson after just 8 carries (for 83 yards), but Dallas Crawford was prepared to be the capable understudy.  Their starting receiver was on crutches by halftime, and even if Stephen Morris’s ankle had healed, his four interceptions in Chapel Hill left him better off claiming lingering pain.

They were licking their wounds on the other sideline in this one as well, though it was mostly just mental anguish after watching a 23-13 lead slip away.  After Ladarius Gunter blocked a Tar Heel field goal try and ran it back 67 yards to put The U up 13-7, North Carolina ran off 16 unanswered points, but were held to three field goals, keeping Miami in the game.  Crawford’s two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns, the second coming with 16 ticks on the clock, kept the Hurricanes perfect in the loss column.

Final: Miami 27 North Carolina 23

Florida State at Clemson

OCTOBER 19  This was Judgement Night in the ACC; despite Miami being undefeated, the consensus had either Clemson or Florida State representing the conference in the BCS, with some prospects of a National Title to the winner of this one.  Clemson was the home team, and the higher ranked one, but many of the experts had Florida State winning this one on paper.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston noted that they were playing Clemson and not the noise.  If the noise bothered them, they did a poor job showing it, dashing out to a 10-0 lead, which grew to 17-0 when Mario Edwards did the scoop & score on a Tajh Boyd fumble.  The rout was on, 12 minutes into this one.  Winston threw for 444 yards, and looked more like a Heisman candidate than ever.  Boyd was held to 156 yards, and it was safe to say his campaign for the big heavy trophy was over.

Sammy Watkins was held to eight catches and a score for Clemson, but with the aid of Winston, the Seminoles trio of receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, and Kenny Shaw combined for 16 catches for 272 yards in the biggest game in ACC history.  Even FSU tight end Nick O’Leary had his share of fun, catching 5 passes for 161 yards.

Final: Florida State 51 Clemson 14

Duke at Virginia Tech


OCTOBER 26 Why even talk about Duke before the start of basketball season, right? Well, for some reason, we talk about Virginia Tech every year, because Frank Beamer was able to recruit Michael Vick to Blacksburg fifteen years ago, and if you can give me a reason to believe in anything about the Hokies after that time, I’m all-ears.

So, here they are, a ranked team in October because they only had one loss to-date, a 35-10 snoozer at a neutral site, where nobody was sold on Alabama’s 25-point victory.  But hey, they do have Logan Thomas, the prototype quarterback once believed to be the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, in one of those way-too-early projections.  And on the other side, you had Duke, the basketball school that had to come back from 22 down to beat the hapless Virginia Cavaliers football team a week earlier, but these Blue Devils were 5-2.

The stat sheet doesn’t tell the tale in this one at all.  Time of possession was all Virginia Tech, by almost a 2-to-1 margin.  The Hokies had almost 400 yards of total offense, compared to 198 for Duke, who turned the ball over 4 times in this one.  Duke quarterback Anthony Boone got something of a reprieve, since Thomas threw four of his own, the last one, with about four minutes left gave Duke their first win over Virginia Tech since 1981.  Boone’s third quarter touchdown run put David Cudcliffe’s squad up 13-0, after the game went to intermission without a touchdown.  Much credit due to Duke kicker Ross Martin, who had kicks of 51 and 53 to give his team the early 6-0 advantage.

Final: Duke 13 Virginia Tech 10

Miami (FL) at Florida State

NOVEMBER 2 This particular battle of the unbeatens came with far less fanfare than the ‘Noles game in Death Valley the month before, and left you to remember how hyped up this intra-state rivalry was when Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden walked the sidelines.  This game had the fights, but lacked the wide-rights.

A couple of Davonta Freeman touchdowns, one on the ground and another by way of the pass, gave Florida State a 21-7 lead late in the first half, but Miami countered with Allen Hurns second scoring reception of the half, and it was 21-14, still a game at the break.  If at any point the result of this one was in doubt, James Wilder Jr and Freeman eliminated all question with third quarter touchdown runs, and Miami had no response, just a fresh number 1 in the loss column.

Final: Florida State 41 Miami 14

Pittsburgh at Syracuse

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NOVEMBER 23 There is something to be said for the play of Special Teams, and though it seemed like there was plenty of time for the Orange to overcome Aaron Donald’s first quarter block of an extra point that kept Syracuse’s early lead over the Panthers at 6-0, it ended up being the difference in a 1-point game.  Pittsburgh would eventually take a 10-6 lead on a short Tom Savage touchdown pass, but only after their first points of the game came in the fashion of a 43-yard field goal after a 19-play drive stalled. Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton did manage to put one through the goal posts with 10 seconds left in the first half , and these former Big East rivals went to the half with Pitt on top, 10-9.

Terel Hunt hit Alvin Cornelius for a 42-yard touchdown, giving ‘Cuse the lead back for the first time since leading 6-3 in the first half, but Pittsburgh was able to counter with a touchdown of their own on the final play of the third quarter.  The conversion gave them a 17-16 lead, which would hold up until the final gun, making Pittsburgh bowl-eligible.  On the other hand, Syracuse was 5-6, needing a win over Boston College in their final regular season game to go “bowling”.

Duke vs Florida State (ACC Championship)


DECEMBER 7
First, the obvious; this was a de facto National Semi-Final game for Florida State, win and they’re in, but let’s give Duke some credit.  This was, without question, their finest season of football in a very long time.  They were 10-2, which was good enough for a Coastal Division title and a chance to play in a game with Dr Pepper sponsoring it.

When the ball was kicked off in this one, all bets were off.  A small sign of hope was installed for Duke when Devonta Freeman gave them the ball at their own 3 after a 22-yard run, but it was to no avail.  The first quarter ended the way it started, with no score.  Florida State got things going with red-zone touchdowns from Kelvin Benjamin and Karlos Williams, and then added a field goal to up their lead to 17-0 at the half.

They never looked back; it was 38-0 at the end of third quarter, and it was time to start carving Jameis Winston’s name into the heavy statue that he’d pick up in New York a week later.  Winston hit Kenny Shaw and Benjamin for scores with his arm, and ran 17 yards to paydirt, on a day that he threw for 330 yards and ran for another 59.  It was Florida State’s 13th consecutive game of scoring 35 points or more, but more importantly, the win essentially guaranteed them a spot in the title game against the SEC Champion, which would be the final game in the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series.  At this point, FSU has not trailed in a game since around the 2-minute mark of the Boston College game on September 28th, spanning over 500 minutes of clock.

Final: Florida State 45 Duke 7