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Athlon previews the Week 8 action in the ACC.
There's a full slate of games in the ACC this week, as all 12 teams are in action on Saturday afternoon. Although there are no marquee top-25 games, there are some crucial conference matchups, including Florida State-Miami and Virginia Tech-Clemson. Duke hopes to get bowl eligible against North Carolina, while Virginia looks to end a five-game losing streak with a win over Wake Forest.
Other Week 8 Previews and Predictions
ACC's Top Storylines for Week 8
Is this the week Duke gets bowl eligible?
The Blue Devils need just one more win to get bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. However, the schedule is considerably tougher over the second half of the season, and the team is reeling just a bit from the 41-20 loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday. Injuries have plagued this team this year, but coach David Cutcliffe continues to find the right answers. If the Blue Devils want to their sixth win on Saturday night, the defense will have to have one of their best efforts of the season. North Carolina has defeated Duke eight consecutive times and brings to Durham an offense averaging 40.3 points a game. The Blue Devils appear to be a much-improved team on defense, but the Tar Heels will be the best offense they have faced in 2012. Duke should be able to move the ball on North Carolina’s defense, but if it cannot slow down the Tar Heels’ combination of quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard, the Blue Devils will have to wait another week to get bowl eligible.
Is Maryland a trap game for NC State?
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for NC State coach Tom O’Brien. With a huge win over Florida State on Oct. 6, the Wolfpack could enjoy that upset a little longer and not have to worry about a letdown last Saturday. With that victory clearly in the rearview mirror, NC State has to refocus and prep for a much-improved Maryland team. The Terrapins have already doubled their win total from last season and are the only unbeaten team remaining in the ACC. Winning in College Park has been a challenge for NC State in recent years, as the Wolfpack have lost three in a row at Maryland. Although the Terrapins are an improved team, they are still limited offensively. If NC State quarterback Mike Glennon can get on track against a Maryland secondary ranked 18th nationally against the pass, the Wolfpack should snap their losing streak in College Park. However, if Maryland controls the tempo and keeps this a low-scoring game, the Terrapins will pull off the upset.
Does Miami have any shot to beat Florida State?
The Hurricanes dominated the series with Florida State in the early 2000s, but Florida State has won five out of the last seven matchups. The Seminoles are clearly the better team but with this being a huge rivalry game, Miami will have extra motivation. Any upset bid for the Hurricanes has to hinge on the health of quarterback Stephen Morris and a defense that has been among the nation’s worst. Morris suffered an ankle injury in last week’s loss against North Carolina and is questionable to play on Saturday night. If he cannot go, Memphis transfer Ryan Williams will make his first start at Miami. Even though the quarterback play is a huge concern, the Hurricanes’ porous defense is a bigger issue. Miami ranks 117th nationally in total defense and has allowed at least 30 points in three out of four ACC games. In Florida State’s loss to NC State, coach Jimbo Fisher took a lot criticism for being too conservative on offense. The Seminoles rebounded with 649 yards and 51 points against Boston College and need to be aggressive once again. If Miami doesn’t fix its defense issues, Florida State will score at will on Saturday night. Expect the Hurricanes to try to control the clock to keep their defense off the field, but the Seminoles rank fifth nationally against the run. Never rule out an upset in a rivalry game such as this one, but Miami’s path to a victory is very, very steep.
Can Virginia Tech’s defense slow down Clemson?
The Hokies’ defense was gashed in two meetings against Clemson last season, allowing 61 combined points and surrendering 451 yards in the 38-10 loss in the ACC Championship. Virginia Tech’s defense was touted as one of the nation’s best in the preseason but has failed to live up to the hype so far. The Hokies are allowing 381.3 yards and 22 points per game and are averaging just 1.9 sacks per contest. The Tigers have been strong on offense all year, scoring at least 37 points in each of their last five games, while leading the conference in passing yards per contest. Cornerbacks Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller figure to have their hands full, especially as they try to cover receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. It’s unlikely Virginia Tech will be able to completely shut down the Tigers, but they need to get pressure on quarterback Tajh Boyd to throw off the timing of this offense and not allow any big plays.
Is this the week Virginia Tech’s offense gets on track?
Statistically, the numbers for Virginia Tech’s offense aren’t awful. The Hokies rank 54th nationally in scoring and are averaging nearly 400 yards per game (398). However, a deeper look into the statistics shows Virginia Tech ranks just seventh in ACC in total offense in conference-only games. The Hokies have picked it up on offense the last two weeks, scoring 34 points against North Carolina and 41 versus Duke last Saturday. The rushing attack has sputtered this season, but freshman J.C. Coleman ignited the ground game last week, rushing for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Although Virginia Tech may have found its answer on the ground, the offensive line has been hit hard by injuries and will be without center Andrew Miller for the rest of the year. Clemson’s defense hasn’t slowed many teams this season and has allowed at least 31 points in each of its three ACC contests. Stopping quarterback Logan Thomas will be a challenge for the Tigers defense, but if the Hokies want to win in Death Valley, they need the offensive line to step up a notch this weekend.
Which defense will step up: Boston College or Georgia Tech?
There should be no shortage of points when Boston College and Georgia Tech meet this Saturday. These two teams rank near the bottom of the ACC in total, rushing and scoring defense. This will be the Yellow Jackets’ first game after the firing of defensive coordinator Al Groh, and coach Paul Johnson promoted assistant Charles Kelly to call the plays for the rest of the year. Boston College has allowed at least 40 or more points in three of its games this season, while ranking 117th nationally against the run. Considering Georgia Tech ranks third nationally against the run, and the Eagles struggled to stop another option team earlier this year (Army), Boston College will need their best effort of the season to contain the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack. When Boston College has the ball, it should be able to exploit Georgia Tech’s secondary (267.7 ypg). This is a critical matchup for both team’s bowl hopes and whichever defense can turn things around will help score a key victory for their team.
Can Virginia find a spark on offense against Wake Forest?
Saturday’s Wake Forest-Virginia matchup is crucial for both team’s bowl hopes. The Cavaliers have a five-game losing streak entering Saturday’s game, while the Demon Deacons have a 3-3 record and still have to play Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame. Needless to say, the loser of this game probably won’t make a bowl. Virginia’s offensive production has been puzzling this season, as the Cavaliers are averaging 423.1 yards per game but rank 10th in the ACC in scoring offense. Turnovers have been a big problem for Mike London’s team, and the rushing attack has been stuck in neutral most of the year. Alabama transfer Phillip Sims has started the last two games but has just one touchdown pass, while tossing three picks and completing less than 50 percent of his throws. Considering how Sims has played over the last two games, Virginia will likely give former starter Michael Rocco a chance to play in a relief role this week. The Demon Deacons haven’t been the toughest defense in the ACC this year but have played some quality offensive teams, including Florida State, North Carolina and a difficult team to prepare for in Army. Wake Forest ranks 10th in the ACC against the run, which should be a good sign for Virginia’s struggling ground attack. The Demon Deacons don’t usually beat themselves, which adds even more pressure for the Cavaliers to win the turnover battle this week.
ACC Week 8 Predictions
|Week 8 ACC Games||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Virginia Tech at Clemson||Clemson 38-28||Clemson 34-30||Clemson 34-24||Clemson 33-20|
|Wake Forest at Virginia||Wake 21-14||Virginia 24-21||Virginia 28-24||Wake 27-23|
|Boston College at Ga. Tech||Ga. Tech 28-10||Ga. Tech 30-20||Ga. Tech 38-27||Ga. Tech 34-20|
|NC State at Maryland||Maryland 17-10||NC State 31-24||NC State 27-20||NC State 24-17|
|North Carolina at Duke||UNC 35-28||UNC 48-31||UNC 34-24||UNC 24-20|
|Florida State at Miami||FSU 41-21||FSU 30-17||FSU 38-17||FSU 41-24|
by Steven Lassan
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