Florida State and Miami understand exactly what's at stake this week.
"I think it's a measuring stick for your team," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
It also is a measuring stick for the ACC.
In the opening week of the season, the ACC barely missed two chances to deliver the kind of signature win that could have changed the national perception of the league. Two more golden opportunities come this week.
Miami visits Ohio State in an attempt to avenge its loss in the classic BCS championship game that closed the 2002 season, while Florida State travels to Oklahoma in a rematch of the championship game from two years earlier.
Virginia goes to the West Coast to face heavily favored USC and Georgia Tech plays at Kansas in two other games that match ACC teams against opponents from other major conferences, but it's the Miami-Ohio State and Florida State-Oklahoma matchups that will draw the most interest.
If the ACC can pull an upset in just one of those two games, it would make a statement that one of the league's traditional powers is on the verge of returning to national prominence. If both Miami and Florida State win, ACC officials justifiably could make the case that their league ranks among the nation's best this season.
The ACC went 10-2 in season openers, marking the first time the league had won as many as 10 games in a single week. It nearly went 12-0.
North Carolina fell 30-24 to LSU in a game that ended with the Tar Heels on the Tigers' 6. Virginia Tech lost 33-30 to Boise State by allowing the winning touchdown with 1:09 left in the game.
The ACC's reputation has taken a hit in recent seasons, partly because Virginia Tech has performed so well in league competition after struggling in an early-season non-conference game. The Hokies lost 48-7 to LSU in their second game of the 2007 season, and they opened the 2008 campaign by falling 27-22 to East Carolina. Both years, Virginia Tech went on to win the ACC title. Virginia Tech kicked off last season by losing to Alabama. And even though Georgia Tech won the 2009 conference title, Virginia Tech ended the season as the ACC's highest-ranked team.
Virginia Tech's loss to Boise State doesn't necessarily mean the pattern is about to continue.
A victory by Florida State or Miami would give the ACC instant credibility and would support the preseason notion that the league was on the rise. And it also would allow the Seminoles and Hurricanes to make their case that they could end Virginia Tech's reign as the conference's dominant program.
"It's a great opportunity for us to get better," Miami coach Randy Shannon said of the Ohio State challenge. "And I think once you look at it from this point - in the second game of the season - no matter what happens, we'll be a better football team at the end of the season. I think this is a game where we can improve and set [ourselves] up for where you need to be at the end of the season."
Best matchup: Ohio State offensive line vs. Miami defensive line. Miami recorded eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss last week in a 45-0 rout of Florida A&M. If the Hurricanes can put anywhere close to that much pressure on Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, they have an excellent shot at pulling the upset. Of course, they figure to have a much tougher time getting past a veteran Ohio State line that features All-America candidate Justin Boren at guard. The Buckeyes have plenty of experience at guard and center, but this game could come down to the performance of Ts Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. Miami's Olivier Vernon had 3.5 sacks and Adewale Ojomo had two against Florida A&M. Adams and Shugarts have to keep Vernon and Co. away from Pryor as much as possible.
Player on the spot: Florida State QB Christian Ponder. Florida State staged a preseason Heisman campaign for Ponder even though he was coming back from a shoulder injury and lacked the national name recognition of several other contenders. Here is Ponder's chance to establish himself as a legitimate candidate. If Ponder throws for at least 250 yards while ending Oklahoma's 31-game home winning streak, he joins Boise State's Kellen Moore as one of the early-season front-runners. This game also represents something of a homecoming for Ponder, a Texan who grew up less than three hours from Oklahoma's campus. Oklahoma allowed Utah State's Diondre Borel to throw for 341 yards last week, so Ponder certainly has a chance to further expose the Sooners' pass defense. If Florida State gets blown out while Ponder struggles on the national stage, his Heisman hopes likely vanish.
Numbers game: North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has been responsible for 2.4 touchdowns per game in his career. That puts him on a pace to break the ACC career record of former Wolfpack great Philip Rivers, who was responsible for 2.29 touchdowns per game during his college career. Wilson has thrown 52 touchdown passes and has run for eight scores to make him responsible for 60 touchdowns, which ranks him 15th on the ACC career list. He needs one more touchdown to catch former Virginia QB Matt Schaub for 14th place.
What they're saying:
"We go up against the best quarterback in the nation every day. Going against Jacory [Harris] every day, we can be ready for any quarterback, any offensive line." - Miami DT Marcus Forston, to CaneSport.com, about the challenge of preparing for Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
"It was an opportunity missed. But I believe we beat ourselves. It wasn't anything [Boise State] did to beat us." - Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor, to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk, after the Hokies' 33-30 loss to Boise State
"I told [the team] that last year we wouldn't have finished. I told them when I'm pushing you real hard and you're cussing me, this is what I'm preparing you for. They understand now." - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, to TerrapinTimes.com, after the Terps held off Navy 17-14 with a goal-line stand in the final minute
"It is what it is. I think there are games that he is going to throw the ball well - and he has in the past - and there are games where he may struggle sometimes. What you hope is if he struggles, it is a game that you don't need to throw it. I really believe that we could have won the game on Saturday not ever throwing the ball. We have played a lot of games that way. We are going to be more efficient, but six attempts is a pretty small sample size to announce something dead. Especially when one guy dropped [a pass], one was a pass interference. It wasn't that big of a deal to me. Would I like to see him throw a couple of balls better? Yes. But I have seen the kid, and he can throw the ball. If you are waiting for him to complete 70 percent of his passes, you are going to be waiting a long time." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, on QB Joshua Nesbitt's accuracy problems Nesbitt rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns Saturday in a 41-10 victory over South Carolina State, but he also went 1-of-6 through the air with an interception
"It was a step in the right direction. I have to take a bigger step in the right direction as we go on. I'm blessed to be able to come back and play. Now I have to do something to help our team win football games." -Boston College LB Mark Herzlich, to The Boston Globe, after recording six tackles Saturday in his first game since sitting out the 2009 season with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer
Etc.: The resignation of defensive line coach John Blake has forced the remaining members of North Carolina's coaching staff to shuffle their responsibilities. Art Kaufman, the linebackers coach to start the season, now will work with the line. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers will work with the linebackers. ... Duke ranked last in the nation in rushing last season with 63.5 yards per game, but the Blue Devils opened the 2010 season by running for 192 yards. Desmond Scott led the way with 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against FCS member Elon. ... Miami RB Graig Cooper played against Florida A&M, just eight months after seriously injuring his knee in the Champs Sports Bowl. But he got hurt in the opener and probably won't be able to play against Ohio State. ... Maryland QB Jamarr Robinson should continue getting relief help in future games. Danny O'Brien entered the Navy game Monday and fumbled his only snap, but Friedgen has indicated he won't hesitate to use O'Brien again. Friedgen also said he may use C.J. Brown as well. Robinson rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries against Navy, but he went just 2-of-5 for 11 passing yards and threw an interception. ... Clemson P Dawson Zimmerman averaged 51.3 yards per attempt Saturday in a 35-10 victory over North Texas. "What you saw Saturday, I see in practice all the time," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I call him a practice All-American. It was never transferred onto the field - until this week.'' ... ... Florida State's Ochuko Jenije, a fifth-year senior who started at cornerback last season, moved to safety for the season opener against Samford. Jenije will remain at safety this week ... The status of Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling and SS Rodney McLeod remain uncertain for Saturday's game with USC. Dowling had a hamstring injury and McLeod a knee problem that kept them out against Richmond last week. ... North Carolina QB T.J. Yates' 97-yard touchdown completion to WR Jheranie Boyd last week against LSU was the longest play from scrimmage in North Carolina history. Boyd finished the night with six catches for 221 yards, which exceeded his 2009 season total by 7 yards. ... Wake Forest's 53-13 victory over Presbyterian last week gave the Deacons their highest single-game point total since 1990. ... Wake Forest WR Chris Givens and DE Kevin Smith are eligible to return to action this week. Givens and Smith originally were suspended two games for violating team rules, but Wake coach Jim Grobe said their good behavior caused him to reduce the penalty to one game.