November 26, 2009

Weekend preview of the ACC

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THE SCHEDULE
Wake Forest at Duke, noon
Clemson at South Carolina, noon
North Carolina at N.C. State, noon
Miami at USF, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
Florida State at Florida, 3:30 p.m.
Boston College at Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Georgia at Georgia Tech, 8 p.m.
The ACC once again has failed to produce a legitimate national title contender.

But it's getting closer.

This will mark the ninth consecutive season that no ACC team enters its bowl game with a shot at the national title - we're not counting Miami in 2001-02, when it was in the Big East - but the league has shown signs that the trend could change as soon as next season.

The ACC has five schools in this week's BCS standings to lead all conferences. The ACC representatives in the top 25 are No. 7 Georgia Tech, No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Miami, No. 18 Clemson and No. 24 North Carolina.

By comparison, the league has finished with only three teams in The Associated Press poll each of the past three seasons. The ACC hasn't ended a season with five ranked teams since the final 2005 AP poll had No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Miami, No. 18 Boston College, No. 21 Clemson and No. 23 Florida State.

Miami and Florida State went on prolonged slides the following year to send the ACC into a tailspin, but the five teams currently ranked don't seem likely to fall into a similar trap.

In fact, most of the ranked teams could be even better next season. Here's a quick outlook of each ranked team in the ACC:

No. 7 Georgia Tech (10-1 overall, 7-1 in the ACC): Remember all that talk before the season of how opposing defenses would have a better chance of stopping Paul Johnson's option attack now that they had a year to prepare for it? It didn't happen.
Reason to hope: Georgia Tech has only six scholarship seniors on its roster. Every one of Georgia Tech's touchdowns this season has been scored by a non-senior.
Reason to mope: Star defensive end Derrick Morgan and running back Jonathan Dwyer could be tempted to enter the NFL Draft.

No. 14 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2): Virginia Tech was the latest preseason ACC favorite to fall short of expectations, but the Hokies still have a chance to continue their string of 10-win seasons. All of Virginia Tech's losses have come against ranked teams.
Reason to hope: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has improved as a passer. The running attack should be outstanding next season if both Darren Evans and Ryan Williams can stay healthy.
Reason to mope: The Hokies will have to fill plenty of holes on defense. Departing seniors include tackle Cordarrow Thompson, end Nekos Brown, linebacker Cody Grimm, cornerback Stephan Virgil and safety Kam Chancellor.

No. 17 Miami (8-3, 5-3): The Hurricanes managed to go 3-1 during their season-opening gantlet and showed their toughness in come-from-behind victories at Florida State and Wake Forest.
Reason to hope: Quarterback Jacory Harris is only a sophomore, yet he already has established himself as a team leader. And all his top receivers are underclassmen. Miami also returns loads of talent on defense.
Reason to mope: Harris has tossed 17 interceptions this season, and he might not have as much time to throw next season. Miami's offensive line must replace three senior starters.

No. 18 Clemson (8-3, 6-2): The team that often fell apart down the stretch in the past has won six consecutive games to capture its first Atlantic Division title. Clemson's late-season surge indicates the Tigers finally have learned how to respond to adversity.
Reason to hope: Redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Parker has come on strong late in the season and should only get better as his career progresses. Clemson should return four starters on the offensive line.
Reason to mope: Clemson loses all kinds of talent at the skill positions. The Tigers must replace Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford on offense, and they lose cornerbacks Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler on defense.

No. 24 North Carolina (8-3, 4-3): You won't find many hotter teams than North Carolina, which has knocked off Virginia Tech and Miami during its four-game winning streak. The Tar Heels' ball-hawking secondary has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. The Tar Heels have done it while playing 13 true freshmen, the fifth-highest total in the nation.
Reason to hope: The Tar Heels have only two senior starters on each side of the ball.
Reason to mope: North Carolina won't win the ACC title next season unless it gets better production from quarterback T.J. Yates, who has thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (10) this season.

BEST MATCHUP: N.C. State QB Russell Wilson vs. North Carolina secondary. Perhaps no team in the ACC relies as much on one player as North Carolina State depends on Wilson. He threw for 279 yards and ran for 40 yards last season in a 41-10 rout of the Tar Heels. Wilson could face a much tougher challenge this season, as UNC ranks seventh in the nation in pass efficiency defense and has picked off nine passes in its past two games. Wilson had a sparkling 17-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and set an NCAA record earlier this season by throwing 379 consecutive passes without getting intercepted. However, he hasn't been nearly as careful with the ball lately. Wilson has thrown 10 interceptions in North Carolina State's past seven games. He must keep the ball away from North Carolina's Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams. Burney has picked off four passes that have led to three defensive touchdowns in North Carolina's past two games. Williams had three interceptions in last week's 31-13 triumph over Boston College.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Florida State G Brandon Davis. Florida State must run the ball effectively to have any chance of upsetting Florida, but the Seminoles likely will be playing without their top offensive lineman. All-America candidate Rodney Hudson sat out a 29-26 victory over Maryland last week with a leg injury that also makes him doubtful for Saturday's game. Davis started in place of Hudson last week and likely will get the assignment again Saturday. Florida State managed to rush for 198 yards and four touchdowns on just 24 carries without Hudson last week, but that big performance came against a Maryland team that ranks 71st in the nation in run defense and has beaten just one FBS team all season. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense and ranks seventh in run defense.

NUMBERS GAME: Wake Forest's game at Duke this week will mark the first time in the ACC's 57-year history that two 9,000-yard passers have faced off in a conference game. Duke's Thaddeus Lewis has thrown for 9,678 yards and broke Ben Bennett's school record for career passing yardage last week. Lewis also owns the school records for pass attempts (1,462), completions (849), total offense (9,599) and touchdown passes (64). Wake Forest's Riley Skinner owns school records for passing yards (9,390), pass attempts (1,311), completions (875) and touchdown passes (55). Lewis ranks third and Skinner fifth on the ACC list in career passing yards. Lewis ranks fifth and Skinner is tied for 12th on the ACC's rankings for career touchdown passes. Both are four-year starters. Skinner ranks second and Lewis third on the ACC list for career completions. Former North Carolina State star Philip Rivers is the conference record-holder in all three categories with 13,484 passing yards, 95 touchdown passes and 1,087 completions.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

"It's really not about me. It's about the team, and it's about the players." - Virginia coach Al Groh, addressing the rumors surrounding his future, to The Roanoke (Va.) Times

"He's a tough old guy, and he'll fight it. If he has a chance to beat it, he'll beat it." - NC State coach Tom O'Brien, discussing offensive coordinator Dana Bible's health situation to The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. Bible has been diagnosed with leukemia

"We took our lumps this year, but we won't be taking our lumps next year." - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, discussing what he would say to fans about the state of the program

"We're getting closer [to Florida]. Next year, we should be neck-and-neck." - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

"Honestly, I get ready for this game as I get ready for any other game. I think you have to do that. I told somebody earlier that this is not the end-all, do-all for our football program, to beat Georgia. We want to win our share of games against them, and it's an in-state rivalry game and all. I understand that. But it's not going to define our year if we beat Georgia." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson

"It means a whole lot to them because last year there was talk about them being in the top three in Florida and putting Miami out. So it's going to be like a Super Bowl up there for them." - Miami WR Leonard Hankerson, discussing Saturday's game at USF to CaneSport.com

ETC.: Clemson RB C.J. Spiller is 24 yards away from becoming the fifth player in FBS history to compile 7,000 career all-purpose yards. ... Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews received a garnet pickup truck from his former players last Saturday after the final home game of his storied career. Andrews, 68, is retiring after spending 26 seasons at Florida State. ... Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams still has a chance to end the season as the nation's top freshman runner, but he's going to have to catch Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis. Williams has averaged 123.2 yards per game, while Lewis has gained 129.1 yards per game. ... Williams also has a chance to become the first freshman to lead the ACC in both rushing and scoring. Williams has a healthy lead in rushing over Boston College's Montel Harris, who ranks second at 110.8 rushing yards per game. Williams and Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt are tied for the scoring lead with 96 points each. ... North Carolina State WR Owen Spencer and Georgia Tech WR Demaryius Thomas are battling for the NCAA lead in yards per catch. Spencer is averaging 24.42 yards per catch, while Thomas has gained 24.36 yards per catch. ... Virginia Tech has thrown only three interceptions all season. The only team with fewer interceptions is Air Force, which has been picked off just once. ... Boston College LB Luke Kuechly ranks third in the nation in tackles per game (11.45). No other freshman from one of the Big Six conferences ranks among the top 80 players in that category.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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