Florida State and North Carolina have a chance this week to show their rebuilding projects could reach fruition a year or two ahead of schedule.
Both teams already have provided reasons for optimism. Florida State has blown out second-tier programs Western Carolina and Chattanooga by a combined score of 115-7. North Carolina looked particularly impressive last week in a 44-12 triumph at Rutgers.
But the real tests come Saturday.
Florida State can assert itself as the chief challenger to Clemson in the Atlantic Division by knocking off a Wake Forest team that has beaten the Seminoles each of the past two years. North Carolina can stake its claim as the Coastal Division front-runner by beating reigning conference champion Virginia Tech.
"We know it was a great win for our program and for our family we have here, but Coach (Butch Davis) talks about picking up a crumb and turning it into a cake," North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney said. "It was a great win, but that was last week. We have to get prepared for a Virginia Tech team that is going to come in here looking to blow us out."
Virginia Tech certainly won't overlook North Carolina. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said North Carolina will be the best team the Hokies have faced all season, even though they already lost to 15th-ranked East Carolina.
The only ACC matchup between ranked opponents this week comes in Tallahassee, where No. 24 Florida State plays host to No. 18 Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have beaten Florida State two times in a row, including a 30-0 shutout at Doak Campbell Stadium two years ago.
"We played Wake up there last year, got beat, and they seem better, but we think we are too," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "Now it's time to see. Bring them down here, and let's play the best we can play without errors. That's what it will get down to."
Losing to Wake Forest the past two years hasn't crushed the Seminoles' confidence. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder opened the week by making a bold prediction, though he stressed that he wasn't issuing a guarantee.
"I've got to say we're not going to lose this game," Ponder said. "It's going to be tough. I think everybody's going to be prepared and everybody's going to be excited and I think it's going to be tough for us to lose this game."
Ponder and Co. will try to make an equally strong statement Saturday night.
North Carolina WRs Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate vs. Virginia Tech CBs Victor Harris and Stephan Virgil: This game matches the ACC's top receiving tandem against one of the league's best defensive backfields. Tate and Nicks are the league's No. 1 and No. 2 receivers with a combined 20 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Harris earned a reputation as one of the nation's top cover corners last year. Virgil already has an interception and a touchdown on a fumble recovery this season. Nicks and Tate caught a combined 11 passes for 125 yards in a 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech last year, but the Hokies managed to keep either player from scoring. North Carolina probably won't beat Virginia Tech unless either Nicks or Tate finds the end zone.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Florida State QB Christian Ponder: After beating out incumbent Drew Weatherford for the starting job, Ponder has been exceptional this season. He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency, but he has done that against Western Carolina and Chattanooga. By the end of Saturday's game, we should have a better idea of whether Ponder's early numbers were a mirage or a true indicator of his potential.
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller has scored six touchdowns this season. ? Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis and Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner have each thrown five touchdown passes without an interception. ? Duke WR Eron Riley already has caught five touchdown passes. ? Ponder has thrown six touchdown passes without an interception. ? Maryland RB DaRel Scott ranks fifth in the nation in rushing with 135.7 yards per game. He also is averaging 7.3 yards per carry. ?? Tate leads the nation with 308 all-purpose yards per game. He also ranks second in punt return average (36.5) and fifth in kickoff return average (38.0). ? North Carolina State LB Nate Irving has picked off three passes and has returned one of them for a touchdown. Irving also is tied for fourth in the conference with 9.3 tackles per game. ? Wake Forest WR D.J. Boldin ranks third in the nation with nine catches per game. ? Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank is 5-for-5 and Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts.
Clemson RB James Davis has rushed for only 154 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. Davis had rushed for a combined 2,251 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2006 and 2007. ? Maryland kicker Obi Egekeze has missed all five of his field-goal attempts. ? North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has gone 11 of 26 for 104 yards with one interception and no touchdown passes this season. ? Virginia RB Mikell Simpson has rushed for only 77 yards on 35 carries. Simpson rushed for at least 81 yards in five of Virginia's final six games last season.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
? "This cannot be an in-and-out thing. We have to keep building on it, keep practicing hard and hopefully come out and do the same thing over and over again. So the younger guys can see that we are doing it and they can keep building on it." - Duke WR Eron Riley after a 41-31 victory over Navy improved the Blue Devils to 2-1.
? "The guys who do the games, they're morons. ? I don't worry what they say." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, regarding the television announcing crew criticizing his decision to go for it on fourth-and-7 from his 34-yard line with 2:24 left and no timeouts remaining in a 20-17 loss to Virginia Tech.
? "My mom will say I'm the best when I'm around her, but then she'll say they are the best when she's around them. She'll bandwagon. It's crazy right now. We are getting phone calls from everybody. My parents will be on the sidelines and have T-shirts made with everybody on the front." - Clemson strong safety Michael Hamlin to TigerIllustrated.com about facing two of his younger brothers in Saturday's game with South Carolina State. Markee Hamlin is a starting strong safety, while Marquais Hamlin is a reserve free safety.
? "We knew that if we could get this win, it could change the trajectory of the season. Hopefully we can just capitalize on this victory."-Maryland QB Chris Turner after a 35-27 upset of California.
? "For right now, this is where we are. This is the best way for our football team to operate. I really feel for (Sean Glennon). But Tyrod (Taylor) just fits where we are as a football team right now. I can tell you as you go along and get better, there's more Sean Glennon. He fits into this thing more down the road. I told him that. " -Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in The Roanoke (Va.) Times, talking about the decision not to use QB Sean Glennon against Georgia Tech last week.
Beamer said he would try to use Harris more on offense this week. The star cornerback played nine snaps on offense last week in a 20-17 victory over Georgia Tech. ? Miami made changes in its depth chart during an off week. DT Dwayne Hendricks has moved ahead of Antonio Dixon, while OG Chris Rutledge has replaced Joel Figueroa in the starting lineup. ? Miami DE Eric Moncur will probably sit out the Texas A&M game as he recovers from a sports hernia. ? Skinner currently ranks as the most accurate passer in ACC history. The junior quarterback has a completion percentage of .708. ? North Carolina's victory over Rutgers last week marked the Tar Heels' first win outside the state of North Carolina since October 2002. North Carolina had lost its past 20 games played outside the Tar Heel State. ? Florida State leads the nation in total defense and is ranked second in scoring offense. ? Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt ran for 150 yards against Virginia Tech, to set a school single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback. ? Florida State WR Preston Parker will play Saturday against Wake Forest after serving a suspension for the Seminoles' first two games.