October 23, 2008

ACC: No favorites have stepped forward

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Virginia Tech and Wake Forest had opportunities last weekend to move a giant step closer to a potential Atlantic Coast Conference championship game showdown.

However, each lost in disconcerting fashion.

Wake Forest fell 26-0 to Maryland, while Virginia Tech's offense failed to reach the end zone in a 28-23 setback at Boston College.

Now we have crossed the midway point of the season and aren't any closer to figuring out which teams will win their respective divisions.

"It's pretty crazy this year," Wake Forest linebacker Stanley Arnoux said. "The teams you would expect to be ranked in the top 25 aren't, and teams that you wouldn't expect are. It just goes to show that it's a crazy year."

Boston College, Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with 2-1 records. Georgia Tech leads the Coastal Division for the moment with a 3-1 mark, though Virginia and Virginia Tech are only a half-game behind at 2-1. Virginia Tech also owns a tiebreaker advantage over Georgia Tech after beating the Yellow Jackets earlier this season.

The Coastal Division could clear up significantly this week.

Virginia Tech's head-to-head victory over Georgia Tech allows the Hokies to control their destiny, but that could change if the defending ACC champions lose at Florida State. Virginia plays at Georgia Tech in a game with significant ACC championship implications.

Every team in the league has lost at least one conference game. No wonder Virginia coach Al Groh was asked this week if he'd say there's no clear conference favorite at this point in the season.

"That's not what I'm saying," Groh said. "It's what the teams are saying."

The Atlantic Division is even more jumbled than the Coastal.

A Wake Forest victory and a Boston College loss last week would have allowed the Demon Deacons to take command of the division race. The opposite happened instead, which leaves everyone but Clemson and North Carolina State with a realistic chance of capturing the division title.

"It's exciting to be back in that race," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. "It really is." The recent stumbles by Wake Forest and Virginia Tech assured the second half of the ACC schedule should prove quite exciting.

ACC SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
Boston College at North Carolina, noon
Wake Forest at Miami, noon
Duke at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m.
N.C. State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Virginia Tech running game vs. Florida State run defense: Boston College's 28-23 victory over Virginia Tech last week offered a textbook case of how to beat the Hokies: Force Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball. That's why Florida State has plenty of reason to feel good about its chances of beating the defending ACC champions. The Seminoles rank seventh in the nation in run defense and are allowing just 2.7 yards per carry and 79.5 rushing yards per game. Virginia Tech is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, mainly because its lack of a passing attack allows defenses to stack the box. But that didn't stop the Hokies from winning five consecutive games before the loss to Boston College. Darren Evans ranks second in the ACC with eight touchdown runs, while Taylor ran for 110 yards against Boston College. "(Taylor's) one of the most talented scramblers that we've faced since we've been here," Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews told The Orlando Sentinel. "And we've played against some good ones." If the Hokies average 4 yards per carry against Florida State, they have an excellent chance of winning the game. Recent history suggests the Hokies won't have that much success on the ground.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Miami QB Jacory Harris: Will we be watching him on the field or on the sideline for most of the day? Nobody knows for sure. But the true freshman from Miami Northwestern High certainly made a case for more playing time last week when he came off the bench and threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth score in a 49-31 victory over Duke. Miami coach Randy Shannon hasn't said whether Harris will start Saturday against Wake Forest or how he will alternate him with Robert Marve, who has started the Hurricanes' last six games. Harris, who typically plays the second quarter of games in relief of Marve, played the final three quarters of the Duke game. Whether Harris starts or not against Wake Forest, expect to see him earn more playing time than usual after that brilliant performance at Duke.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Boston College strong safety Paul Anderson has recorded an interception in three of his last four games. Clemson WR Aaron Kelly rebounded from a season-long slump Saturday by catching his first two touchdown passes of the year in a 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech. Duke LB Michael Tauiliili has compiled at least eight tackles in each of his six games this season. Florida State kicker Graham Gano has made 10 consecutive field-goal attempts, including three from more than 50 yards. Florida State CB Michael Ray Garvin leads the nation with a kickoff return average of 33.4 yards per attempt. Maryland LB Moise Fokou has delivered a sack in back-to-back games. Maryland kicker Obi Egekeze has made nine consecutive field goals after missing his first five attempts of the season. North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn has run for a total of 338 yards in his last three games. North Carolina LB Bruce Carter blocked a kick for the fifth time this season last week. North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has thrown six touchdown passes without an interception in his last three games. North Carolina State WR Owen Spencer has caught a touchdown pass in back-to-back games. Virginia LB Clint Sintim has compiled seven sacks in his last four games. Virginia Tech CB Victor Harris has picked off a pass in four consecutive games and scored on a 55-yard interception return last week.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Clemson RB James Davis has 20 carries for 51 yards in his last two games. After catching eight passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns against Navy, Duke WR Eron Riley has a total of 10 catches for 104 yards and one touchdown in his last three games. Miami QB Robert Marve has gone 29-for-66 for 260 yards with six interceptions and two touchdown passes in his last three games. ... Wake Forest is averaging 2.6 yards per carry and has only four rushing touchdowns all season. Josh Adams has run for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 80 carries. Adams had rushed for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns on 219 carries last season.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "Both want to be starters. Both need to be starters, whether it's at the University of Miami or somewhere else. In time, those kids are going to say, 'I want to know I'm going to be the starter. I don't want to compete every year.' How does (Randy Shannon) go about doing it? That's why he gets paid the big bucks. I think both kids love the University of Miami and will do everything in their power to make this work. Whether one or the other will transfer, I'm not sure."
    - Rodney Harris, the father of Miami QB Jacory Harris, speaking to The Miami Herald about the quarterback competition between his son and Robert Marve.

    "It will be something I'll cherish for a long time. When somebody like Cedric Peerman wants to do that, not only him individually but as a representative of the character and heart of the team, it's very meaningful and very appreciated."
    - Virginia coach Al Groh, responding to Peerman's decision to give him a game ball after a 16-13 overtime victory over North Carolina. Groh served as a linebackers coach at UNC from 1973-77.

    "Sometimes when things like this happen, they can be a positive for a team. I'll tell you one thing: It's going to be a positive for this team. You're going to see a motivated team. We're not going to take no for an answer. I'll tell you that we're going to be prepared to play. There is not going to be any lapse. This is going to be a positive for us, and we're going to grow. I can promise you that."
    - North Carolina QB Cam Sexton to CarolinaBlue.com after the loss to Virginia.

    "I think our players are embarrassed. I know our coaches are embarrassed. It's unfortunate, but we've really followed up two great wins with really poor performances. Hopefully, we can find some sense of consistency over the last six games."
    - Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe after a 26-0 loss to Maryland.

    "We are in the same scenario as last year (when) we lost to Boston College and then beat them in the ACC championship. Our focus has to be week-to-week goals, and it will work out."
    - Virginia Tech safety Dorian Porch.

  • ETC.
  • Boston College LB Brian Toal is out for the season after breaking his right fibula last week against Virginia Tech. Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank's condition has improved, though his status for Saturday's game with Miami remains uncertain. Swank has missed two games with a strained quadriceps muscle. Florida State WR Bert Reed has been suspended for Saturday's game with Virginia Tech. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Wednesday that Reed was suspended for missing classes. Georgia Tech CB Jahi Word-Daniels will sit out this weekend's game with Virginia because of a hamstring injury. Virginia Tech leads the nation in turnover margin. Boston College punt returner Rich Gunnell's 65-yard touchdown last week marked the third time this season Virginia Tech has allowed an opponent to score on a punt return. The Hokies haven't allowed that many touchdowns on punt returns in a single season since the 1950s, The Roanoke (Va.) Times reported. After failing to catch a pass in back-to-back games, Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey bounced back in a big way with 11 catches for 101 yards against Wake Forest. That marked the first time since 1995 that a Maryland player had caught at least 10 passes in a game. ... Maryland's 26-0 victory over Wake Forest marked the Demon Deacons' first shutout loss since 1998. Boston College has held an opposing offense without a touchdown three times this season. The Eagles blanked Kent State and Rhode Island before keeping Virginia Tech's offense out of the end zone last week.

    MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

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



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