ACC Championship 2013: Top Stars to Watch For in Duke vs. Florida State

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles drops back to pass during the first half against the Syracuse Orange at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)
Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

The Florida State Seminoles reign superior atop the BCS standings, and all that stands in their way of playing in the national title game is a dance with the No. 20 Duke Blue Devils to decide the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday.

Few are giving the upstart 10-2 Blue Devils any chance of winning the game, but Duke has done well just to get to this point after showing signs of improvement last season but ultimately finishing 6-7.

There are a couple of noteworthy stars to check out on the Blue Devils' side of things, along with some notables from the Seminoles worth breaking down as well.

Here is a look at some of the playmakers who will play a huge part in the outcome of Saturday's game at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium.


Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

WINSTON SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 09:  Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles during their game at BB&T Field on November 9, 2013 in Winston Salem, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The freshman phenom has an excellent chance to solidify his Heisman Trophy campaign by putting on another virtuoso performance in this one.

Winston has the benefit of a wonderful supporting cast and a loaded defense to complement him, but he's proven to be wise beyond his years on the gridiron and has made all the plays to drive the Seminoles' undefeated season.

To the surprise of very few, he was named the ACC Player of the Year:

The precocious signal-caller has thrown for multiple touchdowns in all but one game this season and is completing over 68 percent of his passes with a ridiculous 11.01 yards per attempt.

It will take a monumental effort from the Blue Devils to even slow down Winston, much less stop him often enough to pull off an unfathomable upset.


Jeremy Cash, S, Duke

WINSTON SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 23:  Jeremy Cash #16 of the Duke Blue Devils tells the fans to get loud during play agianst the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 23, 2013 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Duke won 28-21.  (Photo by Grant Ha
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

One man who can help stand in Winston's way is Cash, an All-ACC safety who has thrived in his first year in Durham after transferring from Ohio State.

The 6'2", 210-pound sophomore has accumulated 109 total tackles in 2013 and leads the Blue Devils with four interceptions, showcasing rare versatility to cover and play the run from the safety position.

As reported by Joe Giglio of the News & Observer, Cash has an attack-oriented, confident mindset and feels he can win any matchup he encounters—even against the vaunted Seminoles:

You have to be confident. Not arrogant or cocky, but just have confidence in your ability and your teammates and your coach. I have that...I approach every situation where I expect to win. It might not always happen, but I expect it to happen. If you go in there and think, "Well, maybe it will happen," it won’t happen. You have to believe mentally or you won’t do it physically.

Read more here:

Giglio highlights how flexible Duke can be in its unique 4-2-5 defensive alignment, where Cash plays as more of a hybrid safety-linebacker type.

Cash is one of the most underrated safeties in the nation, but he will have a chance to showcase his abilities against the best competition he could ask for—with the ACC title on the line. While the Blue Devils may not win, their defensive leader is certainly a star to watch in this game and in the future.


Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 30:  Kelvin Benjamin #1 of the Florida State Seminoles runs for a touchdown during the game against the Florida Gators on November 30, 2013 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Duke may be able to shore up the defensive backfield when guarding against the likes of senior Florida State wideouts Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, who lead the team in receiving.

However, Benjamin is a 6'5", 234-pound sophomore who is coming into his own and just had a career game with nine receptions for 212 yards and three touchdowns. That gives him five trips to pay dirt in the last two games, too.

That type of size has allowed Benjamin to lead the team with 12 TDs, creating not only a big play threat but also a viable red-zone target for Winston to look to.

The Florida secondary that Benjamin ripped up in last week's 37-7 triumph featured studs such as freshman Vernon Hargreaves and 2014 NFL draft entrant Loucheiz Purifoy. Thus, Benjamin could be in for another monster performance on Saturday.

Among the myriad of weapons Duke has to account for, it may have the toughest time dealing with Benjamin's size inside the 20 and in jump ball situations on deep throws.


Brandon Connette, QB, Duke

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Brandon Connette #18 of the Duke Blue Devils avoids a sack by Dominique Green #26 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during play at Kenan Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Duke won 27-25.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A career game from Connette would help the Blue Devils' cause for sure. He doesn't even start under center—that label belongs to fellow junior Anthony Boone.

Rather, Connette serves as Duke's power runner to get tough yards between the tackles or to give the team an extra boost at the goal line. The unique, versatile QB weighs in at 225 pounds. Even the Blue Devils' thickest back in Shaquille Powell isn't as big and physical.

As much as Connette brings to the table as a runner with his 13 touchdowns on the ground this season, he is also a capable passer, with 13 touchdown passes to just six interceptions and a completion percentage of 61.8.

Duke's offensive-minded head coach David Cutcliffe won't be pulling any punches versus the mighty Seminoles, so when Connette hits the field, he should give his team a lot of creative latitude.

It would be wise to tie in some packages that allow Connette to throw more in addition to using him as a tone-setter in the running game.

If the Blue Devils are meant to have any chance, Connette has to bring the pain to the Florida State front seven in an effort to shorten the game and keep the ball out of Winston's capable hands.



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