September 16, 2010

Week 3 preview in the ACC

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Cincinnati at N.C. State, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, noon
Maryland at West Virginia, noon
East Carolina at Virginia Tech, 1:30 p.m.
Alabama at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
BYU at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.
Clemson at Auburn, 7 p.m.
Wake Forest at Stanford, 11:15 p.m.

This was supposed to be the year the ACC got better.

It instead apparently has gotten worse.

The league that hasn't sent a team to a national title game since 2000 and never has earned two BCS bids seems destined to have both streaks continue for one more season. It's hard to imagine any conference having a worse week than the one the ACC just endured.

On the same day that Oklahoma was burying Florida State and Ohio State was defeating Miami, Virginia Tech lost to FCS program James Madison. And if that weren't bad enough, defending ACC champion Georgia Tech lost to a Kansas team that had fallen to FCS program North Dakota State a week earlier.

All that has forced ACC coaches into their annual ritual of defending their conference's poor September performance in non-conference games.

"I think things go in cycles," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "The Pac-10 will win, then the SEC will win, then all of a sudden the Big 12 will win. I remember there for a long time Nebraska and Oklahoma would win them all and everyone thought they were the cream of the crop. Then they said Nebraska couldn't beat the Florida teams. They couldn't beat Miami ... couldn't beat Florida State. And then all of a sudden they win a few in a row.

"I think that everything goes in cycles - I really do - and it's just a cycle. The ACC is having a tough time right now."

It's particularly tough in the Coastal Division. The Coastal was hyped before the season as perhaps the toughest division in college football. But two weeks into the season, every team in the Coastal has lost at least once. The six Coastal Division teams have a combined record of 4-7, and that doesn't include a single win over an FBS program.

Virginia Tech perhaps has the biggest reason for concern.

Picked before the season to win the league title, the Hokies seemingly never emotionally recovered from their heartbreaking Labor Day loss to Boise State. They now are staring at the realistic possibility of an 0-3 start as they welcome unbeaten East Carolina to Lane Stadium.

East Carolina beat Virginia Tech just two years ago and features former Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis, who will be eager to atone for his poor performance against the Hokies in the 2008 ACC championship game.

"We've had two disappointments - there's no question," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "But you know, if we were 2-0, what would be important right now is what we do now. And if we're 0-2, what's important is what we do now.

"You know, we're a good football team. We just haven't played as well as we want to play."

At this point in the season, the vast majority of ACC teams feel the same way.

Best matchup: Georgia Tech running game vs. North Carolina run defense. Georgia Tech's vaunted rushing attack has produced drastically different results in its two encounters with North Carolina's highly regarded defense since Paul Johnson's arrival in Atlanta. Two years ago, Georgia Tech didn't score a point until the final six minutes of a 28-7 loss to North Carolina. Last season, the Yellow Jackets controlled the ball for 42 minutes in a 24-7 victory over the Tar Heels. The results of this Coastal Division showdown likely will come down to how well UNC LBs Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant contain Georgia Tech's option attack. Of course, the Yellow Jackets also need to take care of the ball. In that 28-7 loss to North Carolina two years ago, Georgia Tech rushed for 326 yards but also committed three turnovers.

Player on the spot: Wake Forest QB Tanner Price. After throwing three touchdown passes in relief of injured Ted Stachitas last week against Duke, Price - a true freshman - will make his first career start Saturday at Stanford. Price won't exactly get a chance to ease into his new assignment. Stanford is ranked 19th in the nation and coming off a 35-0 victory over UCLA. The Cardinal also are eager for revenge after blowing a 14-point halftime lead in a 24-17 loss at Wake Forest last season. Nobody's reasonably expecting Price to outperform Stanford QB Andrew Luck, a probable first-round pick. But Price does need to remain poised and avoid mistakes for Wake Forest to have any shot at pulling off the upset. Price's mobility and moxie make him an interesting prospect. He went 12-of-19 for 190 yards and also ran for 56 yards and a touchdown in the Deacons' 54-48 victory over Duke.

Numbers game: The ACC had five schools ranked among the top 20 teams in the Associated Press' preseason poll (No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Miami, No. 16 Georgia Tech, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 20 Florida State) for the first time in the league's 58-year history. Just two weeks into the season, the only ACC team that remains in the poll is No. 17 Miami.

What they're saying

"I will never have a game like this again. I'm going to use it as motivation. It hurts. You want something so bad, and you lose a game like this. It's definitely not the way you wanted it to go. But I know it's going to motivate me to work harder and never let this happen again." - Florida State QB Christian Ponder, at his weekly news conference after going 11-of-28 with two interceptions in a 47-17 loss at Oklahoma

"What adjective you want me to use? Pathetic? Unacceptable? Which one do you want to use? You can use whichever one you want. To me, it's inexcusable. And we're going to get that corrected. If not, we're going to find guys that want to get out here and play, and play the way we've done it. We've got too good a tradition here and too good of a history here." - Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, to The Roanoke (Va.) Times. The Hokies have allowed a touchdown of more than 70 yards in each of their first two games

"From the looks of the game, I can certainly motivate better. But you know what my experience has been in 31 years? That's movie, TV crap. You'd better be able to motivate yourself. I'm not going to motivate you 12 Saturdays a year. Anybody that thinks you're going to go into the locker room and somebody's going to punch the locker or cave in the blackboard or head-butt somebody and everybody's going to go, 'Aaaaaahhh!' - it's make believe. It doesn't happen." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the need to motivate his team after its loss to Kansas

"It's about Duke. If we play really, really well, we've got a chance to win this game. And I believe that in all my heart, if we play really, really well. We're capable of playing really well. At times, we've played great. Now, it's going to take four quarters of that kind of football to beat a team as outstanding as Alabama. Let's see how much more we can get right in the third game." - Duke coach David Cutcliffe, to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal about Saturday's game with top-ranked Alabama

"You can't look back at this game and let it stop us from making it to where we want to make it. It's just a minor setback for a major comeback." - Miami QB Jacory Harris to the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel after the Hurricanes' 36-24 loss at Ohio State

"I know I made some mistakes last year in some of the reads and stuff like that. I'm here this year to try and change that. I don't worry about what this person said or what that person said. Half the people that [criticized us] have never played football before and sit on the couch watching us play, eating doughnuts." - Clemson LB Brandon Maye, to the (Charleston) Post and Courier about the Tigers' struggles on run defense. Maye will be making his first start of the season Saturday ay Auburn after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery

Etc.: North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn has been cleared for Saturday's game with Georgia Tech. Draughn was one of the 13 players who sat out the season opener with LSU amid the ongoing investigations into allegations of academic misconduct and improper contact with agents. ... Duke finally may have found the answer to its long-dormant rushing attack. Two weeks into the season, Desmond Scott leads the ACC with 199 rushing yards on just 26 carries. Duke ranked last out in the nation in rushing a year ago and hasn't produced a 500-yard rusher since Chris Douglas gained 1,138 yards in 2003. ... Duke has added eight sections of temporary bleachers totaling 3,904 seats for Saturday's game with Alabama. The additions will increase Wallace Wade Stadium's capacity to 37,845. The stadium's namesake, Wallace Wade, coached both Alabama and Duke to Rose Bowl appearances. ... At halftime, Duke will honor the Blue Devils team that beat Alabama in the 1945 Sugar Bowl. ... Wake Forest and Duke combined for the second-highest point total in an ACC game last week when the Deacons defeated the Blue Devils 54-48. The record was set in 1981, when Clemson beat Wake 82-24. ... Wake's trip to Stanford this week (2,303 miles) represents the longest journey any FBS team will make within the 48 contiguous states this season. ... Maryland's Tony Logan leads the nation in punt-return average (37.0). ... Clemson's Dawson Zimmerman leads the nation in punting average (49.78). ... North Carolina State is hosting Cincinnati just five days after playing at UCF. This will mark only the third time since 1980 that NC State played two games this close together with at least one of them being on the road. The Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest five days after beating Northern Illinois at home in 1997. In 2002, NC State beat Duke at home and won at Clemson five days later. "It was pretty hot and muggy on the field [at UCF]," Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said. "Certainly that takes a lot out of you and drains you physically. It's tough to come back from that. It takes a couple of days to get your legs back. We had a lot of guys play a lot of snaps there at the end, and that's what I'm most concerned about." ... Virginia K Robert Randolph has missed each of his first three field-goal attempts this year. Randolph was 17-of-19 last season. ... Boston College RB Montel Harris' string of 14 consecutive 100-yard games ended Saturday when he rushed for 80 yards on 29 carries in a 26-13 victory over Kent State, which leads the nation in rushing defense. ... Maryland and West Virginia announced this week that they would extend their annual series through the 2017 season. Maryland and West Virginia played every year from 1980-2007, but they didn't face each other in 2008 or '09. ... Last week's loss to Ohio State marked the first time in school history that Miami returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. Lamar Miller scored on an 88-yard kickoff return and Travis Benjamin reached the end zone on a 79-yard punt return. Matt Bosher also made a 51-yard field goal Saturday. Chris Freet in the Miami sports information department said no other FBS team in the past 15 years had scored on a kickoff return, a punt return and a field goal of 50-plus yards in the same game.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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