Overview: The Orange Bowl provided such an intimidating home-field advantage for Miami over the years that the Hurricanes once won an NCAA-record 58 consecutive home games. But Miami risks closing down the hallowed venue with three consecutive home losses Saturday when it plays host to Virginia. The Cavaliers will try to remain atop the ACC Coastal Division. Now that its national championship dreams have vanished, Boston College will try to protect its ACC Atlantic Division lead by winning at Maryland. Clemson and North Carolina State put three-game winning streaks on the line in their respective games. Maryland is trying to end a three-game losing streak, and Duke is attempting to snap a six-game skid.
Best matchup: Florida State coach Bobby Bowden vs. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. This matchup between two of the three winningest active coaches has been remarkably one-sided. Bowden owns a 15-0 record against Virginia Tech (12-0 at Florida State and 3-0 at West Virginia) that includes seven consecutive victories over the Hokies since Beamer's arrival. This will mark only the third time in the eight Beamer-Bowden meetings that Beamer has the higher-ranked team. FSU beat favored Virginia Tech teams in the 2002 Gator Bowl and in the inaugural ACC Championship Game two years ago.
The pressure is on: Georgia Tech QB Taylor Bennett. Bennett raised the hopes of Georgia Tech fans by throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a Gator Bowl loss to West Virginia after last season, but that performance looks more and more like a mirage with each passing week. Bennett has thrown just two touchdown passes all season and tossed four interceptions last week in a 27-3 loss to Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech is sticking with Bennett as its starter, but his continuing struggles eventually could cause the Jackets to take an extended look at freshman backup Josh Nesbitt.
Who's hot: Clemson QB Cullen Harper has thrown nine touchdown passes and only one interception in his past three games. Clemson WR Aaron Kelly has six touchdown catches in his past four games. Florida State QB Drew Weatherford has gone 64-of-92 for 693 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games since regaining the starting job. FSU CB Patrick Robinson has picked off a pass in each of his past five games. Georgia Tech DT Darrell Robertson has 6.5 tackles for loss over his past three games. Maryland LB Erin Henderson has made at least 11 tackles in each of the past seven games he has played. North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks has caught at least eight passes in three consecutive games. Virginia DE Chris Long has six sacks in his past five games. Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon has five touchdown passes and one touchdown run with no interceptions in his past three games.
Who's not: Georgia Tech QB Taylor Bennett has gone 81-of-167 with six interceptions and one touchdown pass in his past five games. Miami QB Kirby Freeman completed only one pass in a 19-16 overtime loss to North Carolina State last week and has thrown an equal number of interceptions (five) and completions in his past two games. Kyle Wright will start at quarterback instead Saturday against Virginia.
Keep your eye on: Maryland's quarterback situation remains unsettled heading into Saturday's game with Boston College. Season-opening starter Jordan Steffy sustained a concussion Oct. 29 against Rutgers and hasn't played since, but he has practiced this week. Chris Turner has started the past four games and has led Maryland to one victory. Coach Ralph Friedgen has left open the possibility of switching back to Steffy this week. Beamer has remained mum about his team's quarterback situation. Glennon has played well the past few weeks while replacing an injured Tyrod Taylor, who may be healthy enough to play this week. Virginia TB Mikell Simpson has come on strong the past few weeks and scored the winning touchdown in comeback victories over Maryland and Wake Forest. Simpson may need to play an even bigger role now that Cedric Peerman has injured his right ankle and could miss the rest of the season.
Numbers game: Virginia has set an NCAA record for most wins by two points or fewer in a single season. The Cavaliers have three one-point victories (17-16 over Connecticut, 18-17 over Maryland and 17-16 over Wake Forest) and a pair of two-point wins (22-20 over North Carolina and 23-21 over Middle Tennessee).
Freshmen to watch: North Carolina defeated Maryland 16-13 last week with three redshirt freshmen doing most of the heavy lifting in the offensive backfield. T.J. Yates started at quarterback and tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Nicks, a sophomore, though he also threw two interceptions. TBs Johnny White and Anthony Elzy combined for 129 yards on 26 carries.
Injury update: Clemson G Chris McDuffie (ankle) plans to play Saturday after missing one game. Clemson DT Rashaad Jackson (sprained knee) missed the Duke game last week. Jackson is expected to play this week, though Jamie Cumbie probably will start in his place. Florida State OT Daron Rose (knee) won't play Saturday. Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice is expected to return to action Saturday after missing a game while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Maryland's Henderson expects to play Saturday despite injuring his back against North Carolina last week. Terps OTs Scott Burley (ankle) and Bruce Campbell (ankle) are questionable for the Boston College game. North Carolina State SS Javon Walker (knee sprain) is out and WR John Dunlap (ankle sprain) is questionable for the North Carolina game. Virginia Tech TE Sam Wheeler will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Hokies LB Vince Hall (wrist) is out, WR Eddie Royal (calf) is doubtful and C Ryan Shuman (ankle) is questionable for the Florida State game.
They said it:
"He is not torn at all. He wants us to win just as much as anybody else does."
-- Florida State DT Budd Thacker to Warchant.com about his father's loyalties in the Seminoles' game with Virginia Tech. Doug Thacker played linebacker and defensive end for the Hokies in the 1970s. Budd Thacker committed to Virginia Tech before signing with Florida State
"My knee probably feels better than it did before the season. I'm telling you, I'm going to look good on Saturday. We're going to look good on Saturday.''
-- Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Choice will play against Duke this weekend after missing last week's loss to Virginia Tech with a knee injury
"Half these guys don't even know the history of the Orange Bowl. They don't know how many Super Bowls have been played in it, that there used to be a fish tank in the back where Flipper used to jump up and down. The only thing they know is they play in the Orange Bowl."
-- Miami coach Randy Shannon to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about the players' attitudes toward playing the final game in the Orange Bowl this weekend
"I didn't hear people in the past saying, 'That was an unlucky loss, so it's OK.' You know, it's an (interesting) phenomenon. When you lose, all they do is tell you that you lost. When you win, they tell you what's tainted about the win.''
-- Virginia coach Al Groh to the Roanoke, Va., Times, regarding criticism that the Cavaliers have been lucky to win plenty of close games this season
"I guess we kind of had the Curse of the Bambino. The curse of the Bowden the 'Bowdino' is kind of going on here. Apparently (the Hokies) have never beaten them. As important as this is for the ACC race, I know it probably means more to Coach (Frank) Beamer on a personal level, so hopefully we can get that done for him."-Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon to The Roanoke (Va.) Times, comparing Bowden's 15-game personal winning streak over Virginia Tech to the Boston Red Sox's 86-year World Series title drought that ended in 2004.
Bowl Implications: Boston College's 27-17 loss to Florida State means that Clemson now controls its destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division race. Clemson plays host to Boston College next week. North Carolina State's 19-16 overtime victory over Miami improved the Wolfpack's bowl aspirations while putting the Hurricanes' postseason hopes in jeopardy. NC State must win two of its three remaining games to become bowl-eligible, while Miami needs to win at least one of its final three.
Etc.: Miami's kicking situation remains unsettled. Coach Randy Shannon declared the position wide open this week and has allowed Francesco Zampogna, Daren Daly and Matt Bosher to compete for the job. Zampogna had the job and went 9-of-14 on field-goal attempts, including 4-of-8 from at least 30 yards. Daly replaced Zampogna for the last two games and missed two field goals against North Carolina State, including a 27-yarder in overtime. Bosher already serves as the Hurricanes' main punter. Boston College continues to lead the nation in run defense. The Eagles are allowing 58 rushing yards per game. Clemson's Harper set a single-season school record last week with his 22nd touchdown pass of the year. Bowden's next win will be his 300th with the Seminoles.