2011 ACC Season Recap: Florida State Seminoles

Even With One of the Country's Best Defenses, Florida State Still Disappointed in 2011

Team: Florida State Seminoles

W-L: 9-4 (5-3)

Postseason: 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame

Top Offensive Performer: EJ Manuel, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Nigel Bradham, LB

Starting the year out as a top-five team, it appeared that the sky was the limit for the ‘Noles, back in the saddle as a national power. Unfortunately for them (and the ACC), the good times wouldn’t last very long. After a tough, close loss to then-top-ranked Oklahoma, Florida State began their league slate with consecutive 35-30 defeats to upstarts Clemson and Wake Forest. Somehow, the team would win seven of their final eight contests to right the ship, but the rally failed to change perception. After an extended period of national success under Bobby Bowden from the late 80s through the early 00s, the Seminoles of the last eight or nine years have continually disappointed, despite its collection of highly-talented athletes.

On offense, the team was led by junior EJ Manuel, who finished fourth in total offense in the conference while throwing 18 touchdown passes. Manuel would also run for four scores on the year, occasionally showing prowess on the ground — most notably in a 41-16 rout of Duke in which he passed for two scores and ran for two more in the game. Beyond Manuel, the offense was efficient, for lack of a better term. Though they were 33rd in the FBS in passing yards per game (257), and 39th in points (30.6), they lacked standout playmakers and ranked among the worst in the country running the ball. No back or receiver on the team accumulated more than 600 yards on the season; a stunning statistic through 13 games and that many points scored. But of course, it all came down to the defense. Continue reading

2011 Season’s Final ACC Power Rankings

Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech's Disappointing Finish Won't Stop Them From Finishing as the ACC's Top Team

In these conference rankings, I list the ACC teams, one through 14, as if Pitt and Syracuse were already in the league. Yes, adding the additional teams may seem pointless now, but wait until they officially join. Then it’ll seem like old news and we can get past that initial awkwardness. No, I won’t reconsider. On to the final rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3) (7-2) (LW: 1): The Hokies do end the year on a two-game losing streak, however, their final game was competitive and entertaining to watch. Had it not been for Danny Coale‘s touchdown being called back late in the contest, Virginia Tech could have easily walked away with a Sugar Bowl victory and actually allowed the conference to keep some dignity this postseason.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-4) (7-2) (LW: 3): Speaking of dignity, the ACC champs lost all of theirs in a 70-33 drubbing at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The loss would go down as one of the worst in bowl or BCS history, and add to the frustrating concept that is Clemson football. Coach Dabo Swinney has taken this team to new heights, now he must surpass those, too, and deliver a title contender.

3. Florida State Seminoles (9-4) (5-3) (LW: 2): The ‘Noles were one of the ACC’s two bowl victors after defeating the oft-overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl. While never overly impressive in the matchup, it was a continuation of a theme for Florida State — never appearing all that dominant, but getting the job done when unchallenged by their opponent.

4. NC State Wolfpack (8-5) (4-4) (LW: 6): The conference’s other victor defeated Louisville in their bowl game to complete an improbable and fantastic run to end the year. In defeating the likes of Clemson, Maryland and the Cardinals consecutively, the Wolfpack won with both offense and defense — suddenly showing themselves a team that could play up to any opponent, regardless of how favored they may be. Above all, QB Mike Glennon was most impressive, throwing for 11 touchdowns over those final three games. Continue reading

Discover Orange Bowl Preview: Clemson vs. West Virginia

The High-Powered Offenses of Clemson and West Virginia Face Off in the Discover Orange Bowl

The Clemson Tigers stunned ACC favorites Virginia Tech to earn their first Discover Orange Bowl bid in 20 years. In the other corner, the West Virginia Mountaineers won a three-way tiebreaker to take home the Big East title and the default BCS berth that goes with it. It’ll be a battle of great offenses down in Miami Gardens. We examine who’s most likely to prevail.

Bowl Game: (Discover) Orange Bowl

Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-3) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3)

Last Meeting: 1989, a 27-7 Gator Bowl win by Clemson


Clemson (previous bowl game: 31-26 loss to USF in 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl)

For much of the 2011 season, the surprising Tigers sported the ACC’s most electrifying offensive attack. With All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd at the helm, and star freshman Sammy Watkins catching passes, the team raced out to an 8-0 start, averaging over 40 points per game in that span. Though the team struggled through the year’s final four regular season games (going 1-3), they still managed to recapture their previous magic in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. Propelled by a swarming defensive front and a relentless passing assault, they cruised to a 38-10 victory. And while it was an impressive, unexpected victory, it shouldn’t cloud the obvious flaws in this Tigers team. Continue reading

Champs Sports Bowl Recap: Florida State over Notre Dame, 18-14

Florida State's EJ Manuel Led a Fourth-Quarter Seminoles Rally for an 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl VictoryFl

What happened: After a lackluster first three quarters, the Florida State Seminoles rallied in the fourth to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl, 18-14. In spite of two missed two-point conversions in the period, Florida State’s offense managed to put up the necessary points for an 11-point comeback and four-point win. The Seminoles’ defense was stellar all game, creating three turnovers, including two in the endzone. Their strong play on that side of the ball held the Irish offense at bay just long enough to let FSU quarterback EJ Manuel go to work, connecting on two big passing scores in the final quarter’s first few minutes. For much of the contest, Irish QB Tommy Rees struggled, forcing bad throws and ultimately dooming his team to the close loss with a late pick in the Seminoles’ endzone.

Who’s to blame: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, for his mostly uninspired gameplan, to start. But mostly, it comes down to an inefficiency for the aforementioned Rees to ever truly get the momentum going on offense — especially when his team was counting on him late in the game. Two endzone interceptions (especially the one with three minutes remaining in the contest) directly removed points off the board for the Irish, and were the exclamation points on a poor evening which saw him complete just 16 of 27 passes, for 163 yards. In spite of holding the lead for three quarters, Notre Dame only had 90 rushing yards, and receiver Michael Floyd was held mostly in check, catching just five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

It Was Over When: Tommy Rees threw the aforementioned late interception. Though the final score was decided far earlier, when FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins connected on a 29-yard field goal with about eight minutes to go. Notre Dame was completely shut out in the fourth, and their inability to move the ball, and costly turnovers were what doomed them in the end.

Game Ball Goes To: Manuel, for completing 65 percent of his passes for 249 yards and two late touchdowns. With the running game a non-factor (just 41 total yards on the ground), it was up to Manuel and the passing game to deliver when it mattered most, and they did. Consideration also goes to FSU receiver Rashad Greene, who caught five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown — which ended up being the go-ahead score with 13 minutes to play.

Prediction Update: As predicted, it was a close game between these two storied programs, with the contest ultimately coming down to a fourth-quarter rally. With the Florida State win, that now moves me up to 2-1 on the ACC bowl season, with six contests still to go. Same goes for the ACC, which is trying to notch a .500 bowl record for the first time since 2006.

Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Florida State vs. Notre Dame

The Champs Sports Bowl Matches Florida State Up Against Notre Dame

Today’s bowl preview may end up being an ACC conference game soon if the cards fall right. For the moment however, it’s just a showdown between two underachieving teams that have not been considered national powers for at least the better part of the last decade. Still, tons of compelling stories going on for this year’s Champs Sports Bowl between the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Bowl Game: Champs Sports Bowl

Location: Orlando, Fla.

First Year: 1990 (as Blockbuster Bowl)

2011 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)

Last Meeting: 2003, a 37-0 road win by Florida State


Florida State (previous bowl game: 26-17 win over South Carolina in 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl)

The Seminoles entered 2011 as a top-five team looking to return to their rightful place of national prominence. After two huge wins against cupcakes to start the season, expectations went through the roof in anticipation for their matchup with then-top-ranked Oklahoma, and following a close loss to the Sooners, it seemed like the team was still on track. Two weeks later, however, they were unranked and sitting at a stunning 2-3. Yet, the team would regroup, winning six of its final seven. And while scoring was sometimes at a premium, Florida State’s defense would finish the season as top five in something else — defense. Allowing just 14.2 points per game, the effort on that side of the ball more than made up for their paltry 118 yards per game on the ground and mostly inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel. As we saw in the Seminoles’ games versus quality opponents, however, that formula doesn’t always turn out the way they plan.

Notre Dame (previous bowl game: 33-17 win over Miami (FL) in 2010 Sun Bowl)

Notre Dame also began their year ranked, with high expectations. Enter an 0-2 start, and suddenly the irish had to regroup in a hurry. And just as they did with their backs to the wall in 2010, they collected themselves this past season too. The Golden Domers would lose just two more times (to top-five programs USC and Stanford), and end the year with five wins versus bowl-bound teams. Frighteningly, if not for some poor luck in their first two games, this Irish squad could very well be 10-2, and surely playing in a BCS game (something I actually wouldn’t protest for once). Alas, it was not meant to be, so instead they bring a very balanced and entertaining team (once again, can’t believe I’m saying any of this about ND) to Orlando. Though their defense is not nearly as stingy as the Seminoles’, they run and throw the ball better, and don’t possess offensive numbers inflated by games versus Nowhere State University. The big concern won’t be team numbers, however, but the Irish’s big playmakers; QB Tommy Rees, RBs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, and WR Michael Floyd. Just as a sidenote, Floyd caught 95 passes this year (cue concern).


In spite of what admittedly looks like gushing above, I truly hate Notre Dame. That said, I think they have a real shot to win this one. Balanced offense usually beats one-dimensional, especially when good defenses are involved. The question is, is Notre Dame’s good enough to keep this score down? Following Virginia‘s gameplan from late in the regular season, if the Irish can hold Florida State to under 20 points, they stand a pretty good chance. On the flipside, the ‘Noles haven’t allowed a team to score 20 points themselves since October 8 (!) and have outscored opponents by 132 points total since that game. Given all that, the pick is Florida State, though not by that overwhelming a margin. Prediction: Florida St. 27, Notre Dame 26

Belk Bowl Preview: NC State vs. Louisville

This Year's Belk Bowl Matches NC State Against Big East Co-Champ Louisville

ACC bowl season rolls right along this week, with the conference’s second game in as many days. The featured matchup for this preview? Another too-close-to-call contest, this time between the NC State Wolfpack and the Big East‘s Louisville Cardinals in the Belk Bowl.

Bowl Game: Belk Bowl

Location: Charlotte, NC

First Year: 2002 (as Continental Tire Bowl)

2011 Participants: North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Louisville Cardinals (7-5)

Last Meeting: 2007, a 29-10 road win by Louisville


North Carolina State (previous bowl game: 23-7 win over West Virginia in 2010 Champs Sports Bowl)

As most observers know by now, NC State truly struggled to get here — needing seven wins this season in order to qualify for the postseason after playing two FCS squads. Somehow, they won three of their last four (including a tremendous 27-point comeback versus Maryland and a huge upset of Clemson) and qualified in the very last week. So at least we know they can compete when called upon. However, what of the Woflpack’s overall performance? Both the defense and offense were merely average this season, while the running game was ranked among the 15-worst in the country. The saving grace? Quarterback Mike Glennon, who led the team’s ferocious come-from-behind victory versus the Terps. His 28 passing scores on the season also don’t tell the full story, however they give a hint as to where this team’s motor lies. Four of the Pack’s losses came in games where Glennon threw two touchdowns or less — an ominous sign coming up against a good pass-rush.

Louisville Cardinals (previous bowl game: 31-28 win over Southern Miss in 2010 Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl)

Like NC State, Louisville started off slow, before catching fire in the second half of the year. At just 2-4, the team looked listless and uninspired, with an offense averaging around 15 points per game. Then suddenly, something clicked. Freshman Teddy Bridgewater stepped in at quarterback, the team started actually scoring points and moving the ball, and a previously disappointing campaign almost resulted in a BCS bid for the Cardinals. And while Bridgewater surely deserves some of the credit here, the real props should be awarded to Louisville’s defense. Ranked 14th overall in points allowed (19.2 per game), they were a force defending both run and pass schemes, and only allowed one team to top 30 points in a game all year. Though the total season numbers won’t give this away, Louisville was probably one of the scariest opponents on teams’ schedules come the last five weeks of the season.


As mentioned earlier, NC State’s biggest problem is its inability to run the ball — something that is sure to crush the Wolfpack in this matchup. Though the Cardinals can’t score points themselves, consider the following: Three Louisville defenders recorded 80 or more tackles in 2011. Four players had four or more sacks. The team defended 42 passes, intercepted nine, forced 11 fumbles and even blocked four kicks. As well-regarded as Glennon is on this site, if he’s the only weapon in the State arsenal to go up against what I’ve described above it’s tough to see them winning this game. Sure, he could go all-world like he did in the Maryland game, or the Clemson game. But can the team count on that? Unfortunately, they’ll have to if they want a win here. Prediction: Louisville 28, NC State 21

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 14

Virginia Tech Looks Poised to Win Its Fifth ACC Title

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, Virginia Tech gets more entrenched as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, and the conference’s second tier jostles for position in the middle of the bowl lineup. After some late heroics, NC State finds itself in the postseason, while either Syracuse or Pitt will end up sitting at home late this December.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Champs Sports BowlFlorida State Seminoles (8-4)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)

Belk BowlVirginia Cavaliers (8-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop GrummanWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Syracuse Orange (5-6): As far as most SU fans are concerned, the 2011 season ended back in October. With very little offensive production and a defense that refuses to wrap up when making tackles, how can you blame them (us)? Still, the Orange have an opportunity to wrap up a bowl bid (potentially) by beating rival/expansion-mate, Pittsburgh. Can they do it? No. And I say that as someone who’s chosen to watch every game this season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6): Few can blame Pitt for falling by one point to a superior West Virginia squad, but mistakes did cost them dearly at several junctures. Pitt has had to rely heavily on their passing game and defense these past few games, and it will likely be up to them to halt Syracuse on Saturday. If the Orange play-calling resembles recent weeks, the Panthers should be just fine.