Ryan Switzer

Associated Press

Washington’s Dante Pettis returns punt for TD in third straight game, ties two NCAA records in the process

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Why you would ever, ever punt to Dante Pettis is beyond me.  Yet, here we are.  Again.

In the first two weeks of the 2017 season, the Washington returner extraordinaire had taken two punts to the house, giving him seven such touchdowns for his career.  In the first quarter of its Week 3 game, Fresno State opted to punt to him and, well, Pettis did what Pettis does.

Yep.

In one fell swoop, Pettis tied a pair of NCAA records.

The record for career punt returns for touchdowns is now shared by Pettis with Texas Tech’s Wes Welker (2000-03) and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins (2001-04).  Kansas State’s David Allen (1998) and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer (2013) are the only other players to return one for a score in back-to-back-to-back games.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The ACC

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It was not so long ago ACC commissioner was setting the challenge to the entire ACC membership to start representing the conference better on the national stage in spotlight opportunities. In 2016, the ACC could not have done much better. The conference took all of the bragging rights with an impressive bowl record, the national champion (taking down the SEC champion in the process), and the Heisman Trophy winner. So, what does the ACC do for an encore?

ACC ATLANTIC

1. Florida State (10-3 in 2016; won Orange Bowl vs. Michigan)
After watching division rival Clemson capture back-to-back ACC crowns and play in two consecutive national championship games, the 2016 season appears to be Florida State’s time to ascend back to the top of the conference to wave the ACC banner in the College Football Playoff. Florida State, the preseason favorite in the ACC this fall, will have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, starting with a season-opening tilt against Alabama in Atlanta. The offense must replace Dalvin Cook and hope Deondre Francois blossoms as a sophomore in an offense lacking in returning starters but not in potential and talent. FSU’s defense will be in much better shape at the start of the year with a loaded unit with plenty of starting experience, highlighted by safety Derwin James.

2. Clemson (14-1, ACC champion, won College Football Playoff national championship vs. Alabama)
To say Clemson football lost its identity with the departure of so many key players from their championship run would be a slight exaggeration. Dabo Swinney is still the coach and the Tigers will still be a talented bunch despite having big shoes to fill. Expect Clemson to take a slight step back, but the Tigers will still be in the way of Florida State. They even get the Noles at home. Early back-to-back tests against Auburn (home) and Louisville (away) will give an early idea of whether or not there is a championship hangover with Clemson. With a stacked offensive line in gear, whoever takes over at quarterback (likely Kelly Bryant) should be protected.

3. Louisville (9-4, lost Citrus Bowl vs. LSU)
After the way last season ended, the theme to the 2017 season for the Cardinals should be something along the lines of “unfinished business.” The Cardinals dropped the last three games of the season, including a 26-point loss at Houston, a three-point loss to in-state rival Kentucky and a 20-point setback against LSU in the bowl game. After the red-hot start Lamar Jackson and the offense got off to, the end to the year was stunning. Jackson still won the Heisman Trophy and the schedule sets up well for another hot start this fall. But three new offensive line starters must be filled and the offense must cut down on turnovers if Louisville is to make a push in the division.

4. North Carolina State (7-6, won Independence Bowl vs. Vanderbilt)
If there is one thing to like about NC State in 2017, it will be the amount of starting experience the team brings back. This is especially true on the defensive side of the football where a front four led by defensive end Bradley Chubb and three other seniors could cause problems for even the best offenses in the ACC. The offensive line is also looking to be in solid shape with veteran starting experience across the line to protect junior quarterback Ryan Finley. Dave Doeren is in his fourth year with the program, and this one could be his best team yet.

5. Boston College (7-6, won Quick Lane Bowl vs. Maryland)
Head coach Steve Addazio could find himself back on the hot seat at some point this season, even after seemingly cool the temperature with a positive finish to the 2016 season to take into the offseason. The Eagles return a good number of starters on both sides of the football, but the talent gap between Boston College and some of the other teams in the division and conference is telling. Dual-threat quarterback Anthony Brown, a freshman, could provide a spark to the offense, but expect the Eagles to keep pounding the ball in the hands of running back Jon Hilliman. On defense, Boston College has one of the top defensive players in the ACC in defensive end Harold Landry and an experienced defensive mid and backfield to rely on.

6. Syracuse Orange (4-8)
Dino Babers has started to put together a game plan for the Orange with the idea of having a long way to go to restoring pride in the program. With some glimpses at what could be coming for the Orange showed last season (including an upset of Virginia Tech), Babers can count on having a roster returning nearly all of its starters from a year ago on both sides of the football, including quarterback Eric Dungey and linebacker Zaire Franklin. If experience counts for something, then the Orange could be in decent shape to get back to a bowl game. Getting to the postseason will be a challenge. After three winnable games to start the season, Syracuse plays at LSU and later must play games at Florida State and Louisville. They also have a crossover game against Miami to worry about.

7. Wake Forest (7-6, won Military Bowl vs. Temple)
The Demon Deacons could cause some trouble for most teams on their schedule, but Dave Clawson will have to overcome a good amount of youth on the roster this season in order to coach the team back to a bowl game. Wake Forest has struggled to score with an offense that fails to protect its quarterback and a running game that can easily be stopped at the line. The good news is Clawson feels this is the best offensive line he has had since coming to Wake Forest, although depth will be a significant concern. But at least there won’t be rogue radio broadcasters trying to sell off and distribute Wake Forest’s game plan this season, hopefully.

ACC COASTAL

1. Miami (9-4 in 2016, won Russell Athletic Bowl vs. West Virginia)
Get ready to ask all of your college football friends a familiar question at some point this season. Is Miami back? The Hurricanes should take some steps forward as a program and could end up winning its first division since joining the ACC, but there is still a good amount of ground to makeup to be on the same level as Florida State and Clemson, and maybe Louisville. But in this division, anything could go. Miami will play some defense with linebacker Shaq Quarterman leading the charge, but the Hurricanes have a serious quarterback question following the loss of Brad Kaaya to the NFL. Florida State on the road is tricky, but home games against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech could be good.

2. Virginia Tech (10-4, ACC Coastal champion, won Belk Bowl vs. Arkansas)
The defending division champs could just as easily get back to the ACC Championship Game this season, especially if redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson brings some versatility to the offense in Year 2 under head coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies also have new starters at running back and tight end and a couple of spots on the offensive line, but the defense should be in solid shape with a load of experience at linebacker (hello there, Andrew Motupuaka). The Hokies have a tough November with road games at Miami and Georgia Tech and they draw Clemson in inter-divisional play. Regardless, this looks like a solid top 25 team.

3. Pittsburgh (8-5, lost Pinstripe Bowl vs. Northwestern)
The Pitt Panthers scored wins against the eventual national champions (Clemson) and Big Ten champions (Penn State), yet they lost a total of four games by seven points or fewer. Can the Panthers flip a few of those close calls the other way? Pitt must replace James Conner but running back Qadree Ollison can do some damage on the ground. Former USC quarterback Max Browne also takes over at quarterback with one of the top wide receivers in the ACC to throw to (Quadree Henderson). How it all comes together with a new offensive coordinator remains to be seen, and the schedule is not kind with non-conference matchups at Penn State and home vs. Oklahoma State and conference road trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech before closing out the year at home against Miami. But no Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville gives the Panthers as healthy a conference schedule as possible for a run to the division title.

4. Georgia Tech (9-4, won TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Kentucky)
Never underestimate a team coached by Paul Johnson. This is especially true when he returns a good number of starters. After closing out the 2016 season on a four-game winning streak, including a bowl victory over Kentucky, the Yellow Jackets are not to be taken lightly. In fact, Georgia Tech may be the best sleeper pick you will find in the ACC as they bring back the most experience in a division that always seems to be up for grabs. Georgia Tech’s running game will always be the strength of the team, which will help ease the pressure on a defense that is lacking in overall talent.

5. North Carolina (8-5, lost Sun Bowl vs. Stanford)
Everything about UNC appears to be a valid question this season. Can the defense keep improving under a new defensive coordinator? Can the offense work with a quarterback who struggled at times at LSU? Who is going to make plays for the team? After losing Mitch Trubisky to the NFL, the UNC Tar Heels will place the football in the hands of former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris this season. He may be handing off to a freshman running back with Michael Carter being molded to carry the load.Special teams is also a concern for UNC after losing key special teams players from last year like Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan. This could be a rough season in Chapel Hill.

6. Duke (4-8)
The Blue Devils could look like a dangerous team as the season plays out, and there is a schedule that gives Duke an opportunity to turn some heads if they can manage to win a couple of home games against Northwestern and Baylor. But despite Duke’s recent trend of being a team that catches you off guard, the 2017 season could end up only marginally better in the win column than 2016 ended. David Cutcliffe will continue to develop quarterback Daniel Jones, but a lack of playmakers to throw the ball too means Duke’s offense won’t be likely to keep opposing defensive coordinators up all night leading up to a game. The defense returns linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, but the defense has concerns across the field as well. Getting to a bowl game this season would be a major accomplishment for Duke in 2017.

7. Virginia (2-10)
Virginia may still be in good hands with head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but he realized fairly quickly how much work was needed to make the Cavaliers competitive again. Virginia will have to take some baby steps forward as a program in 2017, because the player development and recruiting is going to take some time before Mendenhall has Virginia even thinking about going to a bowl game. Virginia will have to rely on a veteran-led defense to keep games close, and the scheduling gods have given Virginia a break with no crossover games against Clemson and Florida State, but they do have to go to Louisville and they travel to Boise State for a non-conference matchup. Virginia also misses Notre Dame on the rotation this season. Quarterback Kurt Benkert will look to have a rebound season after a rough 2016 season.

ACC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Florida State over Miami

Defense leads McCaffrey-less No. 18 Stanford past North Carolina in Sun Bowl

Associated Press
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Who needs Christian McCaffrey? Or a starting quarterback for that matter? Playing without its regular backfield battery, No. 18 Stanford used a standout effort from running back Bryce Love and a relentless defense to hold off North Carolina 25-23 in an overcast Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Keller Chryst started the game at quarterback and, after a three-and-out and a UNC touchdown to open the game, put Stanford on the board with a 49-yard snatch-and-dash toss to Love. After a Tar Heels punt, Chryst maneuvered Stanford to within scoring territory before he was forced to leave the game after injuring his right knee on an 8-yard scramble. Conrad Ukropina put Stanford on top with a 44-yard field goal with 14:13 to play in the first half.

The Cardinal eventually pushed the lead to 16-7 thanks to a defense that stifled North Carolina’s offense. Playing in perhaps his final college game before a possible first-round selection in this spring’s NFL Draft, Stanford forced Mitch Trubisky into an interception inside his own territory and a fumble inside his own red zone. Nick Weiler, hero of the Florida State win, added to the misery when he missed a 51-yard field goal, leading to Ukropina’s third field goal of the game (with one miss mixed in) to push the Cardinal lead to nine.

North Carolina responded with its best offensive stretch of the day, moving a combined 123 yards over 17 plays to secure a 37-yard Weiler field goal and a 5-yard Jordon Brown rush, staking the Heels to a 17-16 lead with 2:09 to play in the third quarter. But Stanford got Trubisky one last time, taking as Dallas Lloyd claimed his second interception of the day and returned it untouched for a 19-yard pick-six at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter. Ryan Burns, playing for Chryst, saw his 2-point pass fall incomplete, forcing Stanford to live with a 22-17 lead. Burns managed the offense and produced just enough points for the win, completing 6-of-11 passes for 86 yards without a turnover. (Chryst left the game with 86 passing yards, 14 rushing yards and a touchdown.) Love rushed 22 times for a game-high 115 yards with a 49-yard touchdown reception.

The Heels moved 35 yards on a would-be go-ahead possession before punting, and Stanford put together a vintage Stanford (10-3) drive, consuming more than seven minutes to run 12 plays. But Stanford, un-Stanford-like fashion, could not push the ball across the goal line, settling for Ukropina’s fourth field goal of the day instead.

North Carolina (8-5) took the field at its own 25 with an eternity — 3:23, to be exact — and all three of its timeouts, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force a 25-25 tie, but could not gain a first down. Trubisky completed a pass to Ryan Switzer for no gain on first down, threw incomplete on second down and was sacked by Solomon Thomas on third down, forcing a punt with exactly two minutes remaining.

The Cardinal killed only ten seconds on three Love runs — with a third down one puzzlingly going out of bounds — but a 56-yard Jake Bailey punt pinned North Carolina at its own three with 1:34 and one timeout remaining. That inability to cross the line once, either to score the game-winning touchdown or a game-ending first down one drive later, proved costly. Given new life, Trubisky moved North Carolina 97 yards in one minute, as Trubisky scrambled to his right and found Bug Howard opened in the left side of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that traveled about 40 through the air.

Needing a 2-point conversion to extend the game, Trubisky again scrambled to his right but was swallowed by Thomas and a host of Cardinal defenders.

Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick and expired the final 25 seconds to hold on for the win. In what may be his final on-field audition for the NFL, Trubisky finished 23-of-39 passing for 280 yards with two touchdowns and three turnovers (one a pick-six).

With the win, the first of the post-Christian McCaffrey era on the Farm, Stanford secured its second consecutive 10-win season and top-20 season, its fifth such season in six tries under David Shaw and its sixth double-digit, top-20 season in the last seven years dating back to the Jim Harbaugh era.

Stanford down a QB but leading North Carolina in Sun Bowl

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Without Christian McCaffrey and starting quarterback Keller Chryst going down to injury, No. 18 Stanford still holds a 13-7 lead over North Carolina halfway through the Sun Bowl.

North Carolina opened the scoring by moving 71 yards in 10 plays on its first possession, capped by a 19-yard strike from Mitch Trubisky to Ryan Switzer. After a three-and-out to open the game, Stanford answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of its own, the final 49 yards coming on a pass from Chryst to McCaffrey-less starting running back Bryce Love.

The Cardinal forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and moved deep into North Carolina territory when Chryst was forced to leave the game after injuring his knee on an 8-yard scramble. Ryan Burns entered the game and led the Cardinal to a 44-yard Conrad Ukropina field goal, handing Stanford its first lead at the 14:13 mark of the second quarter.

North Carolina moved into Stanford territory on its next touch, but Dallas Lloyd stepped in front of a Trubisky passed and raced it 45 yards to the UNC 20-yard line. Ukropina, however, missed his 36-yard field goal three plays later.

Stanford’s defense continued its vice-grip hold on the UNC offense, though, forcing a four-and-out and a Trubisky fumble at his own 18. Ukropina converted this miscue into points, knocking in a 32-yard field goal with 32 seconds left before the break.

Burns hit 3-of-7 passes for 35 yards, while Chryst will finish with a line of 3-of-6 passing for 68 yards and a touchdown plus 14 rushing yards on two carries. Love has rushed 10 times for 37 yards with a 49-yard touchdown reception.

Trubisky started hot but finished 11-of-17 for 83 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble while rushing five times for 20 yards. T.J. Logan has also carried five times for 20 yards, but the Heels trail the rushing battle, 46-43.

North Carolina will receive to open the second half.

North Carolina jumps on Miami to take big lead into halftime of ACC Coastal tilt

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North Carolina scored on all but one drive in the first half as they jumped on a lifeless Miami to take a 20-3 halftime lead in a huge game in the ACC Coastal standings.

Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked much more like himself playing the Hurricanes rather than playing in one, going 14-of-19 for 162 yards and two scores. Those numbers are more than double what he threw for last week in a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech.

Bug Howard took care of big plays in the passing game by getting a big 40 yard reception to open things up deep while teammate Ryan Switzer was surprisingly held in check (four yards on four catches but one score).

Miami signal-caller Brad Kaaya had virtually no rhythm when dropping back to pass as the Canes could not get much going aside from a few catch and runs from receiver David Njoku (four catches, 82 yards). Mark Walton did chip in with 60 yards on the ground in the offense’s lone bright spot of the first half.

You probably could have seen a big let down coming for the Hurricanes after an emotional last minute loss to Florida State a week ago. North Carolina took advantage of the slow start by the home team in the first half but will need to keep their foot on the pedal if they want to leave South Florida with a win in the final two quarters.