With most of the teams in the ACC playing non-conference games, it was a relatively quiet Week 2 slate. The top three teams in the ACC - Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech - all won handily, while Virginia and NC State beat BCS competition. The stakes are on the rise in conference play this Saturday, as Florida State hosts Wake Forest and Virginia takes on Georgia Tech. The ACC also has a chance to earn a few solid non-conference wins, with North Carolina playing at Louisville and Maryland hosting Connecticut.
Other Week 3 Previews and Predictions
ACC's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 3
1. Can Wake Forest upset Florida State?
Considering Florida State has beat Murray State and Savannah State through the first two weeks of the season, the Seminoles are still somewhat of a mystery. Wake Forest struggled in Week 1 against Liberty but upset North Carolina last Saturday. The Demon Deacons are dealing with a couple of injuries that could affect this week’s matchup, including nose guard Nikita Whitlock. Whitlock was ruled out for Saturday's game on Thursday night, which is a huge setback for Wake Forest’s defensive line, especially against an unproven and young Florida State offensive line. The Demon Deacons will need a big game from quarterback Tanner Price and receiver Michael Campanaro, who will look to challenge unproven sophomore Nick Waisome at cornerback. However, just like Wake Forest will look to exploit Florida State’s offensive line, the Demon Deacons are largely untested up front, which is bad news against one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Wake Forest may hang around early, but Florida State shouldn’t be too concerned about an upset.
2. The return of Sammy Watkins
Clemson won’t need Sammy Watkins to beat Furman, but the Tigers are getting the sophomore back in the lineup at a crucial time. With Florida State up next, Clemson needs to get Watkins back into the flow of the offense and allow him to knock some of the rust off from the offseason. The Paladins are allowing 254 passing yards per game, so quarterback Tajh Boyd should have plenty of opportunities to hit Watkins for big plays. Don’t expect Watkins to play a ton of snaps in Week 3, but his return only adds another playmaker to the ACC’s No. 1 ranked offense after two games (527 yards).
3. Can Virginia Tech stop Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham?
It’s early in the season, but it’s a surprise to see Virginia Tech ranked 80th nationally against the run. Allowing 192 yards rushing to Georgia Tech in the opener wasn’t a surprise, but FCS opponent Austin Peay recorded 159 yards on the ground on 41 attempts last week. Although Pittsburgh is off to an 0-2 start, this is a team Virginia Tech should not take lightly. The Panthers have the Big East’s best stable of running backs, led by senior Ray Graham and freshman Rushel Shell. Graham isn’t fully recovered from a torn ACL he suffered last season, but he has 174 yards through two games. Shell was impressive in limited snaps last week, earning 31 yards on eight carries. The Hokies should be able to pull away in the second half, but if they struggle to stop Pittsburgh’s rushing attack, this game could be close in the fourth quarter.
4. Can North Carolina slow down Louisville’s passing attack?
With only two starters back and inexperienced players stepping into key roles, the Tar Heels had question marks about the secondary coming into the season. North Carolina allowed only 128 yards to Elon in the opener but was torched for 362 yards by Wake Forest last week. This unit will be under pressure once again on Saturday, as Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has completed 49 of 60 passes for 576 yards and two touchdowns through the first two weeks of 2012. The Cardinals also have a solid group of receivers, led by sophomores DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers. Although North Carolina’s offense should be able to move the ball on Louisville, if its secondary can’t stop Bridgewater, the Tar Heels will suffer back-to-back losses.
5. Will Giovani Bernard play for North Carolina?
One of the biggest surprises from last week’s games was the absence of North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. The sophomore wasn’t believed to be seriously injured in the win over Elon, but he did not play against Wake Forest. The Tar Heels managed 157 yards on the ground with Bernard on the sidelines, but there’s no doubt he was missed. The sophomore is participating in practice, and all signs seem to point to a return to the field on Saturday. Louisville will be tough to beat at home, and the Tar Heels need Bernard at full strength to win.
6. Key game in the ACC Coastal: Virginia vs. Georgia Tech
It’s only the second ACC game of the season for Georgia Tech, but it could have an impact on the Coastal Division race. With a loss to Virginia Tech in the opener, the Yellow Jackets can’t afford to drop to 0-2. The Cavaliers have yet to play an ACC game but with a win, can become the clear No. 1 challenger to the Hokies. These two teams have split the last four games, with Virginia winning 24-21 last season in Charlottesville. The key matchup to watch will be how well the Cavaliers can slow down Georgia Tech’s option attack. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 330.5 yards per game on the ground, but Virginia is giving up only 74.5 yards rushing per game. Georgia Tech won’t pass much but will try to hit a few big plays to keep the defense honest. With no go-to receiver for quarterback Tevin Washington, the Cavaliers should be able to focus their attention on stopping the option. Considering both teams are relatively even, don’t be surprised if a late turnover decides this game.
7. Must-win for Boston College?
For Frank Spaziani to return in 2013, the Eagles need to make a bowl game and finish with at least six victories. If Boston College wants to return to the postseason after missing out last year, the Eagles need to win on Saturday at Northwestern. With an upcoming schedule that features games against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland in October, Boston College doesn’t have much room for error. The Eagles will have their hands full against the Wildcats, especially as they try to stop an offense that is averaging 32.5 points a game.
8. Can Maryland’s offense move the ball against Connecticut?
While it hasn’t been pretty, Maryland is 2-0 and seems to be building confidence after beating Temple 36-27 last weekend. Much of the discussion for this week’s game between Maryland and Connecticut will center on Randy Edsall, who left Storrs to take over the Terrapins at the end of the 2010 season. While Edsall’s messy departure from Connecticut will be discussed, the real battle to focus on will be the Huskies defense against Maryland’s offense. Connecticut’s defense has allowed only 10 points through the first two weeks of the season and is averaging four sacks a game. The Terrapins are averaging only 285 yards per game, while freshman quarterback Perry Hills will be tested against a stingy Connecticut secondary. Allowing Hills the opportunity to make plays through the air is critical, but the Terrapins have to win the turnover battle. Considering both teams have struggled to move the ball on offense this year, look for a low-scoring game that could be decided on a last-minute field goal.
9. Miami and NC State get easy non-conference victories
Non-conference games against Bethune-Cookman and South Alabama are coming at the right time for Miami and NC State. The Hurricanes were thoroughly dominated in a 52-13 loss to Kansas State, while NC State is coming off a 10-7 win over Connecticut. Although the Wolfpack won last week, this team has a few areas to address, including an offensive line that is allowing 3.5 sacks per game. The Hurricanes have been awful on defense so far, and the opportunity to play against a FCS team should help build some confidence before ACC play starts again. Similar to Miami, NC State can use this week’s game and next (Citadel) to build some confidence and find a few answers on both sides of the ball.
10. Can Duke find a running game?
Developing a consistent rushing attack has been an issue for years at Duke. The Blue Devils' last 1,000-yard rusher was Chris Douglas in 2003, and the ground game isn’t off to a good start in 2012. Josh Snead leads the team with 52 yards on 11 attempts, while Juwan Thompson ranks second with 45 yards. In order for Duke to make a bowl game this year, the offense has to have better balance. Saturday’s opponent (NC Central) should allow the Blue Devils to work on the ground game, especially with ACC play opening up on Sept. 29 against Wake Forest.
ACC Week 3 Predictions
Week 3 ACC Games
Wake Forest at Florida State
Bethune-Cookman at Miami
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
Connecticut at Maryland
Furman at Clemson
Boston College at N'Western
Virginia at Georgia Tech
North Carolina at Louisville
South Alabama at NC State
NC State 35-7
NC State 31-7
NC State 44-13
NC State 41-10
NC Central at Duke
by Steven Lassan