September 2, 2010

Week 1 preview in the ACC

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THE SCHEDULE
THURSDAY
Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m.
Florida A&M at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY
Samford at Florida State, noon
Weber State at Boston College, 1 p.m.
South Carolina State at Georgia Tech, 1 p.m.
North Texas at Clemson, 3:30 p.m.
Western Carolina at N.C. State, 6 p.m.
Richmond at Virginia, 6 p.m.
Elon at Duke, 7 p.m.
LSU vs. North Carolina in Atlanta, 8 p.m.
MONDAY
Maryland vs. Navy in Baltimore, 4 p.m.
Boise State vs. Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., 8 p.m.

Soap operas and quiz shows always have gone together as staples of afternoon television programming.

So it's probably no coincidence that the soap opera surrounding North Carolina's program this offseason has created its own popular quiz that has left just about everyone at Chapel Hill stumped.

Who's going to play for the Tar Heels this weekend? And who's going to get suspended in the wake of an ongoing NCAA investigation into Carolina's football program?

North Carolina coach Butch Davis announced Wednesday afternoon that defensive tackle Marvin Austin has been suspended indefinitely, but he hasn't indicated whether anyone else could be unavailable for the LSU game.

"This decision is not a result of the ongoing NCAA review," Davis said in a statement released by the university. "Marvin has violated team rules and has neglected his responsibilities to the team."

No other players have been suspended for the LSU game yet, but that could change before Saturday. That possibility affected the way the Tar Heels prepared for this game.

"We've had to be somewhat prudent a little bit in the number of practice repetitions certain guys get," Davis said Wednesday during the ACC coaches' teleconference, before Austin's suspension was announced. "It's something we have to play by ear. Anybody we think might have to play [Saturday] who has limited experience, you may give them slightly more practice opportunities than maybe somebody who's played a lot more."

North Carolina's off-field problems began with the summer revelations that the NCAA had visited Chapel Hill to investigate whether Austin and wide receiver Greg Little had received improper benefits from agents. That was followed last week by reports that the NCAA also was investigating potential allegations of academic misconduct involving football players and a tutor.

All those allegations have tempered the enthusiasm surrounding what had been one of the most highly anticipated seasons in the program's history. Led by a star-studded defense, North Carolina seemed to have a legitimate shot at its first ACC title since 1980.

At least for the time being, that defense no longer will include Austin, a potential first-round pick in next year's NFL draft. Now the Tar Heels must wait to learn if any other players won't be available.

"We're trying to prepare for all scenarios," Davis said.

The North Carolina-LSU matchup is one of the headliners in an opening week that offers feast or famine for ACC fans. North Carolina's clash with LSU is one of the top games on the national schedule Saturday. Virginia Tech's Labor Day night showdown with Boise State is the nation's most interesting matchup of the week, and Maryland's game with Navy that afternoon also offers plenty of intrigue.

But the other nine ACC games don't offer much sizzle. Clemson should breeze past Sun Belt program North Texas, while the eight other ACC teams are facing FCS opponents.

Best matchup: Navy QB Ricky Dobbs vs. Maryland LB Alex Wujciak. No active FBS player rushed for more touchdowns last season than Dobbs. No active FBS player has averaged more tackles per game over the course of his career than Wujciak. Maryland's chances of knocking off Navy on Monday depend on how often Wujciak is able to introduce himself to Dobbs. Wujciak has averaged 132 tackles in each of the past two seasons. Central Michigan's Nick Bellore is the only other FBS player with at least 130 tackles twice in that span. Maryland faced Middle Tennessee's Dwight Dasher and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor last season, so Wujciak has quite a bit of experience against mobile quarterbacks. Dobbs may represent his toughest challenge yet. Dobbs rushed for 1,203 yards last season and gained at least 100 yards in each of Navy's final five games. He also ran for 27 touchdowns, the most ever by an FBS quarterback.

Player on the spot: North Carolina QB T.J. Yates. Although he is entering his fourth year as the Tar Heels' starting quarterback, Yates must rebound from a junior season in which he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (14) and ranked 97th in the nation in passing efficiency. He opens the 2010 season facing an LSU secondary that features Thorpe Award candidate Patrick Peterson. Yates held off a preseason challenge from redshirt freshman Bryn Renner, but a poor performance against LSU could prompt Butch Davis to make a switch early in the season.

Numbers game: This marks the first time in the ACC's 58-year history that the conference has opened a season with five schools ranked among the nation's top 20 teams by The Associated Press. The ranked teams are No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Miami, No. 16 Georgia Tech, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 20 Florida State. The ACC had five teams in the preseason top 25 in 2004 and '05.

What they're saying:

"It's like men walking on the moon for the first time." - Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, to The Boston Globe about the unusual nature of star LB Mark Herzlich's comeback from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, returned to practice this week after spending much of the summer recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot. He hopes to play Saturday against Weber State

"Miller has the speed of Devin Hester and Willis McGahee." - Former Miami running backs coach Don Soldinger, discussing redshirt freshman RB Lamar Miller's big-play potential to The Miami Herald. Soldinger worked as a Miami assistant when Hester and McGahee played for the Hurricanes. Soldinger also told the Herald that this is "the best group of running backs Miami has had since I left" after the 2005 season

"I feel that I am pretty fast and that I can read defenses pretty good because I played quarterback. I can run the ball hard. I looked at the playbook some last year because I played quarterback [on the scout team]. Other than that, I haven't seen some of the plays. I've been really in the playbook a lot and [have] been making flash cards for the plays." - North Carolina State redshirt freshman RB Dean Haynes, to TheWolfpacker.com after being named a starter for Saturday's season opener with Western Carolina. Haynes was a surprise choice to start ahead of junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington. He was a scout-team quarterback last season and worked out at safety and cornerback during spring practice before moving to running back two weeks ago

"The results of the touches are more important than how many times they touch it. When you start [trying to get touches for players], you're not playing to win the game. You're not looking into the game saying, 'OK, this is what's going to be good against them. This is what we're good at doing.' Now, you're just starting to think about spreading the ball around. When you start doing those things, you're getting away from the game, and it'll become more of an issue than it needs to be." - Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, to the Newport News, Va., Daily Press about splitting carries between former 1,000-yard rushers Ryan Williams and Darren Evans

"Everybody is excited to be around the McCue Center, in the weight room in conditioning, where 12 months ago, it was a little bit of a drag." - Virginia DT Nick Jenkins, to the Daily Press about the change in energy surrounding the program since coach Mike London has taken over the program

Etc.: Florida State QB Christian Ponder has company. Georgia Tech launched a Web site Tuesday (www.nesbitt4heisman) to promote the Heisman campaign of Yellow Jackets QB Joshua Nesbitt. Earlier this summer, Florida State officials started a Web site (www.cp7forheisman.com) to support Ponder's Heisman candidacy. No ACC player has finished higher than sixth in the Heisman balloting since Florida State QB Chris Weinke won the award in 2000. ... Florida State sophomore WR Willie Haulstead has emerged as a surprise starter for the Seminoles. Haulstead has only one career catch, but he won a starting spot over Bert Reed, who caught 60 passes last season. "He's big, strong, physical, and he can block," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher told Warchant.com. "He gives you a big target. He can go inside. He can catch that slant and can catch the deep ball." ... London will make his head-coaching debut at Virginia by facing his alma mater and former employer. London played defensive back at Richmond from 1979-82 and coached Richmond the past two seasons. He led the Spiders to the 2008 FCS title. "I would not be human if I sat here and said it's another game," London said. "It's not another game." ... How young is Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons' likely first-team defense for Thursday's season opener against Presbyterian includes three redshirt freshmen (FS Daniel Mack, DT Frank Souza and NT Nikita Whitlock), three sophomores (LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes and CB Kenny Okoro) and only one senior (LB Hunter Haynes). ... Georgia Tech is the defending ACC champion, while South Carolina State is an FCS program. But in at least one respect, South Carolina State has a clear advantage in Saturday's matchup. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Doug Roberson pointed out this week, South Carolina State's five offensive linemen average 304 pounds per man, while Georgia Tech's three starting defensive linemen average 277 pounds. ... Clemson LB Brandon Maye had arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday and will miss the North Texas game. Sophomore Jonathan Willard is expected to start in his place. ... Maryland K Nick Ferrara has a groin injury that makes him a game-time decision for the Navy game. P Travis Baltz also would handle the kicking duties if Ferrara is unavailable. ... Virginia heads into Saturday's game having lost its past four season openers by an average margin of 25.5 points (38-13 against Pittsburgh in 2006, 23-3 against Wyoming in 2007, 52-7 against USC in 2008 and 26-14 against William & Mary in 2009). ... Richmond's starting quarterback is Aaron Corp, who began his college career at USC. ... Duke's game with Elon represents a reunion for an assistant coach on each side. Duke assistant defensive coordinator Jim Collins graduated from Elon in 1974, while Elon offensive line coach John Strollo worked on Duke's staff from 2005-07. ... Florida State CB Greg Reid led the nation in punt returns last season with an average of 18.4 yards per attempt. North Carolina State WR Owen Spencer averaged 25.5 yards per catch to lead the nation in that category.

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



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