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10. There’s life after Andre Williams on the Heights.
It’s never easy losing a back the caliber of Williams, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season. But as long as Steve Addazio is calling the shots at Boston College, the Eagles are going to power the ball down the throats of opposing defenses. Just ask USC. BC ranks No. 7 nationally in rushing, with underclassmen Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis providing ample support for shifty senior QB Tyler Murphy.
9. Georgia Tech doesn’t miss Vad Lee after all.
When Lee suddenly announced last January he was transferring to James Madison, it seemed like a body blow to the Yellow Jacket offense. Instead, Tech is thriving around sophomore Justin Thomas, who’s helped lead the team to a 4-0 start, including an upset of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Would Paul Johnson still like to have Lee on the Flats? From a depth perspective, at a minimum, you bet. But as long as Thomas is healthy, the coach’s triple-option looks as if it’ll be in good hands this fall.
8. Virginia is for real.
Cav coach Mike London began the year facing considerable pressure. If he can build on a fast start, he’ll soon be looking at a raise and a contract extension. Virginia was one of the most promising stories of the first month, exceeding last year’s win total, despite playing three ranked teams. And it’s yet to peak. The turnover-happy D is stacked, and now the offense, a perennial concern in C’ville, has begun to shoulder more of the load. If the attack keeps improving, nothing is off limits in 2014, including a Coastal Division crown.
7. Clemson may have lost for the last time this season.
The toughest part of the schedule is now behind the Tigers, including trips to Athens and Tallahassee. The quarterback of the future, Deshaun Watson, is a star of the present. And Brent Venables’ defense is still among the most talented in the league. Put it all together and it could equal Dabo Swinney’s fourth consecutive 10-win season, despite a 2-2 start. Clemson might be favored in every remaining game, including the visit from rival South Carolina in the regular season finale.
6. NC State is still pinching itself over the signing of QB Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett had myriad choices after announcing at the end of the 2013 season that he’d be leaving Florida. The fact that he selected Raleigh to be his home could pay dividends to NC State long after he graduates. Brissett has been a revelation for the Pack, a perfect fit for second-year coach Dave Doeren’s offense. Even in a losing effort, the junior quarterback was magnificent last week against Florida State, often making the spectacular look routine. Brissett is almost singlehandedly changing the narrative regarding Wolfpack football.
5. Miami is dangerous if it can build on last week’s defensive effort.
The Hurricanes stopped Duke in its tracks last Saturday, a profound development for a program that struggled with the Nebraska running game just a week earlier. If Week 5 winds up being a launching point for Mark D’Onofrio’s unit, the rest of the Coastal Division better be on high alert. Miami already has a substantial ceiling on offense, as budding rookie QB Brad Kaaya evolves alongside backs Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby, WR Phillip Dorsett and TE Clive Walford.
4. Pitt RB James Conner is even better than expected.
Conner had obvious potential as a rookie in 2013, especially after garroting the Bowling Green defense in the Little Caesars Bowl. But this good, this fast? Few outside of Western Pennsylvania saw it coming. In just his second year removed from McDowell (Penn.) High School, Conner is one of the nation’s premier backs, and a weapon that forces opposing defensive coordinators to alter their entire gameplan. In just five games, he’s rumbled for 790 yards and nine touchdowns in what could be the seeds of an All-American campaign.
3. The future at quarterback is extremely bright in the ACC.
In Week 6, there’ll be more true freshmen (4) starting behind center than seniors (2). Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson are flourishing in their debuts, and Wake Forest’s John Wolford and Louisville Reggie Bonnafon will continue to improve with more snaps. NC State junior Jacoby Brissett is emerging into a star, and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Louisville’s Will Gardner, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, Pitt’s Chad Voytik and both Virginia quarterbacks are just sophomores.
2. Everyone is chasing Florida State … still.
The Seminoles are more vulnerable than a season ago. Okay. But who’s actually going to hang around for all 60 minutes and take down the champs? Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State came close in the opening month, yet all came up short. Florida State not only boasts the ACC’s deepest personnel, including players and coaches, but it understands what’s needed to survive close games. Remember, this is the squad that won a national championship nine months ago in a game it trailed in the final minute.
1. The Coastal Division is a jump ball … again.
While Florida State is the heavy favorite to repeat in the Atlantic, the Coastal probably won’t be decided until the final weekend of the regular season. What else is new? Right now, everyone is in the hunt, and no one can realistically be considered a favorite. Miami has a loss, but just beat Duke. The Blue Devils are 0-1, but they’re the defending champs. Improved play from Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia make this half of the ACC more complex and competitive than ever.