With only a couple of weeks of conference play remaining, it's crunch time for several teams in the ACC. Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech and Duke are fighting it out for the Coastal Division title, while Florida State holds a one-game advantage over Clemson. Maryland and Wake Forest are trying to get bowl eligible, while NC State is trying to win eight games for the third consecutive season.
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ACC's Top Storylines for Week 10
Will the winner of Virginia Tech-Miami represent the Coastal in the ACC title game?
With North Carolina ineligible to win the Coastal Division, it’s essentially a three-team race between Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami. Georgia Tech can’t be counted out, but the Yellow Jackets have lost to the Hokies and Hurricanes and still have a trip to Chapel Hill in mid-November. Although the Blue Devils have been the best story in the ACC this year, they have to play Clemson this Saturday and close out the year with a home game against Miami. Considering the upcoming schedules for each team, it’s not out of the question the winner of Thursday night’s game will play for the Coastal title. Virginia Tech already has a win over Duke and even though it has to play Florida State next week, would be favored to beat Boston College and Virginia. If Miami wins on Thursday, it should be in good shape to win its last two ACC games – at Virginia and at Duke – while playing South Florida on Nov. 17. The balance of power clearly resides in the Atlantic with Florida State and Clemson. However, getting to the ACC Championship gives Miami or Virginia Tech at least a shot to make a BCS bowl, as well as erasing some of the memories from an average season.
Can Miami’s Stephen Morris exploit the Hokies’ secondary?
Virginia Tech’s defense has been a slight disappointment this season, ranking 48th nationally in points allowed and 49th with 370.5 yards allowed per game. While the defense hasn’t quite played up to preseason expectations, the secondary held North Carolina to only 194 passing and Clemson to 160. This unit will be tested on Thursday night, as Miami quarterback Stephen Morris ranks third in the ACC with an average of 276.8 passing yards per game. The Hurricanes don’t have a true No. 1 receiver, but there’s plenty of depth with Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott, Davon Johnson and Allen Hurns all catching at least 20 passes this year. Morris suffered an ankle injury against North Carolina and had limited mobility against Florida State. However, all signs point to the junior being at full strength on Thursday night. With Miami’s defense struggling, the Hurricanes need to jump on Virginia Tech early, and Morris has to find ways to exploit the Hokies’ secondary. If Miami struggles to get its passing game on track, Virginia Tech will win this game and take command of the ACC Coastal.
Can Duke’s secondary slow down Clemson’s passing offense?
In last week’s win over Wake Forest, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had the best outing of his career, throwing for 428 yards and five scores. The Tigers have recorded at least 37 points in seven consecutive games and take on a Duke defense that allowed 48 points to Florida State last Saturday. The Blue Devils rank 81st nationally against the pass and has allowed each of their last three opponents to throw for two touchdown passes. After struggling to stop Florida State last week, Duke will have its hands full with Clemson’s offense, especially with receiver Sammy Watkins starting to find his rhythm after a slow start. Matching up against the Tigers’ receiving corps is no easy task but winning the battle in the secondary has to start in the trenches. Duke is averaging 2.1 sacks per game, while Clemson is surrendering 1.8 each contest. The Blue Devils need to disrupt Boyd’s timing, as well as win the turnover battle. Duke ranks second in the ACC with 19 forced turnovers, but the Tigers have lost just eight this season. It’s a tall task to keep Boyd, Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in check. And the statistics suggest Duke will need a lot of breaks on Saturday night to knock off Clemson.
Is Tom O’Brien coaching for his job in the last four weeks of the season?
Last week’s 43-35 loss to North Carolina isn’t sitting well with the Wolfpack fanbase, and there are plenty of fans ready to send O’Brien packing at the end of the year. However, with a schedule that features Virginia, Wake Forest, Boston College and Clemson, NC State should be able to finish 8-4. If the Wolfpack can get to that record, it will mark the third consecutive year they have finished with at least eight victories. O’Brien’s overall mark at NC State is 38-33 and has made three bowl appearances in his six years. Is it overly impressive? No. However, after going 16-21 through his first three years with the Wolfpack, this team has gone 22-12 from 2010 through the first eight games of the year. While O’Brien deserves heat for not elevating this program into ACC title contention, he shouldn’t be in any danger of losing his job if NC State finishes 8-4. The real test will come next season, as Mike Glennon departs and cornerback David Amerson is likely headed to the NFL Draft. An unexpected loss Boston College, Virginia or Wake Forest the rest of the way could change the direction of O’Brien’s future. But for now, it looks like he should be in no danger of losing his job after this year.
Is it time for Georgia Tech to switch quarterbacks?
Tevin Washington has made 25 consecutive starts for Georgia Tech but could be in danger of losing his job this week. Redshirt freshman Vad Lee has played well in limited action this season and led the Yellow Jackets to their only offensive points in last week’s game against BYU. Georgia Tech’s offense hasn’t been awful this season, as it ranks fourth nationally in rushing, 30th in total yardage and 28th in scoring offense. However, the Yellow Jackets are looking for a spark and giving Lee a chance to play more isn’t a bad idea. Washington hasn’t been awful throughout his career but has struggled to find consistency as a passer. The quarterback spot isn’t completely to blame for this offense, as the receiving corps doesn’t have any playmakers, and the defense has put a lot of pressure on the Yellow Jackets to score nearly every time they touch the ball. Georgia Tech needs three wins to get bowl eligible but will likely need to upset North Carolina or Georgia to get to 6-6. Considering all of the issues on the roster, inserting Lee into the lineup may not make a huge difference. However, the Yellow Jackets need a spark and giving the redshirt freshman a chance to play makes a lot of sense.
Can Maryland generate any offense with a new quarterback?
It seems like a broken record, but once again, Maryland will have a new starting quarterback this week. With Caleb Rowe suffering a torn ACL against Boston College, the Terrapins are down to converted linebacker Shawn Petty and former tight end Brian McMahon. This will be the third consecutive week Maryland will have a new quarterback under center, and it’s starting to take a toll on the offense. Considering Petty ran an option scheme in high school and has yet to throw a pass in live action this year, the Terrapins need to allow him to have a healthy dose of designed runs early and often in this game. Additionally, coordinator Mike Locksley has to find a way to get the ball in the hands of receiver Stefon Diggs. The true freshman is the team’s best playmaker and caught 11 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown in last week’s game. Although coach Randy Edsall doesn’t want to use Diggs at quarterback, he needs to touch the ball at least 20 times to give the Terrapins a chance to win. In addition to getting the ball to Diggs, the offense has to establish the run (115th nationally), as well as win the turnover battle. With a solid defense, being conservative in third-and-long situations and punting the ball away is not a bad formula for Maryland to use this week.
Must-win for Wake Forest?
The Demon Deacons are on the verge of making their sixth bowl game under coach Jim Grobe. However, if Wake Forest wants to return to the postseason, beating Boston College on Saturday is a must. The Demon Deacons don’t have much margin for error with NC State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt in the final three games of the year. With injuries taking its toll on the Wake Forest offensive line, a matchup against Boston College’s defense should be a relief. The Eagles are allowing 248 rushing yards per game and rank 11th in the ACC in scoring and total defense. Receiver Michael Campanaro returned to the lineup in last week’s loss against Clemson and caught six passes for 52 yards. The junior isn’t 100 percent in his recovery from a hand injury, but his presence will help open up the Wake Forest passing game. After struggling to matchup against Clemson’s receiving corps last week, the Demon Deacons should find Boston College’s offense easier to defend.
Can Virginia’s offense get on track?
A bye week late in the season is usually not a coach’s favorite decision, but it could pay dividends for Virginia. The Cavaliers have struggled to find the right mix on offense all season, averaging just 21.5 points a game. Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco have shared the quarterback duties, while the rushing attack has yet to get on track. With an off week to sort through some of the problems, the Cavaliers hope they have found some answers for the last four games of the season. Virginia still has bowl aspirations, but going 4-0 with a schedule that features games against NC State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech is unlikely. While the Cavaliers will struggle to get to six wins, it’s more important for this team to find the right pieces on offense and build some momentum for 2013.
Can Boston College build off last week’s victory?
Last week’s 20-17 win over Maryland was a small glimmer of hope for a Boston College team that has struggled mightily this year. The Eagles are 2-6 and have just one win over a FBS team. With a schedule that features Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and NC State, getting to six wins and a bowl is very unlikely. However, this team has a chance to build some momentum over the final few weeks, starting with a matchup against Wake Forest this Saturday. Boston College lost 27-19 to the Demon Deacons last season but won 23-13 in 2010. Wake Forest needs to win this game to keep its bowl hopes alive, making this matchup will be a crucial game for both teams in terms of positioning within the conference. Both teams rank near the bottom of the ACC in scoring offense, so points will be at a premium on Saturday afternoon.
Week 10 ACC Predictions
Week 10 ACC Games
Virginia Tech at Miami
Va. Tech 31-27
Georgia Tech at Maryland
Ga. Tech 38-14
Ga. Tech 27-24
Ga. Tech 27-17
Virginia at NC State
NC State 21-10
NC State 30-14
NC State 31-17
NC State 35-14
Boston College at Wake Forest
Clemson at Duke
by Steven Lassan
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