An ACC title game rematch should be good in Clemson.
Duke (1-5, 0-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-0 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Duke and No. 23 Virginia Tech enter this game heading in opposite directions, a trend reflected in the play of their respective quarterbacks.
The Blue Devils, mired in a five-game losing streak since a 41–27 victory over Elon in their season opener, rank 119th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in turnover margin (minus-1.83). The primary culprit has been sophomore Sean Renfree, who has thrown 14 interceptions in the last five games. Renfree remains the starter after tossing five interceptions and losing a fumble last week in a 28–13 loss to Miami, but Duke coach David Cutcliffe said freshman Brandon Connette will continue to see some action under center.
On the other side, senior Tyrod Taylor has played the best football of his career during Virginia Tech’s five-game winning streak. Taylor leads the ACC in passing efficiency, having thrown 12 touchdown passes and just three interceptions all season. Taylor tied a career high with three touchdown tosses in a 52–21 win over Wake Forest last week, and in that game he became the second player in ACC history to surpass 2,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards passing in a career.
Taylor wore a splint on his right (throwing) wrist early in the week, but he has declared himself healthy and ready to play against the Blue Devils. In question is whether star tailback Ryan Williams will join him in the backfield. Williams has missed the last 4½ games since straining his right hamstring against East Carolina, and Virginia Tech’s coaches have instructed him not to return until he feels 100 percent healthy. Williams was able to practice at full speed this week and could return for 10-12 snaps against the Blue Devils.
No one could blame Williams for wanting to return to game action in time to take a shot at Duke’s defense. The Blue Devils, who rank 112th nationally in points allowed (ACC-worst 37.8 per game) and 110th nationally against the run (210.8 yards per game), will have their hands full whether it’s Williams, Darren Evans or David Wilson rushing the ball at them.
Maryland (4-2, 1-1 ACC) at Boston College (2-4, 0-3 ACC), Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
The good news for the teams involved in this game is that one of them is going to pick up a potentially season-saving win.
Maryland has a pretty record without beating a single strong opponent, while Boston College has an ugly record after losing to some formidable foes. The schedules of the two teams are about to flip — Maryland’s will get tougher and Boston College’s easier — and the winner of this game will have some much-needed momentum for a postseason push down the stretch.
A pair of freshman quarterbacks could determine which team comes out on top. Maryland’s Danny O’Brien is coming off a career-high 302-yard passing day at Clemson last week, but he threw three interceptions in a 31–7 defeat. Boston College’s Chase Rettig delivered a different sort of performance in a 24–19 loss at Florida State, completing just 9-of-24 passes for 95 yards while keeping his team in the game without committing a turnover. This week O’Brien needs to make fewer mistakes, and Rettig needs to make more plays.
Maryland’s coaches have said they would like to get their running game in gear to help O’Brien. But they have to call some running plays first. Tailback Da’Rel Scott is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season, but he received only four carries last week and has carried more than 10 times in just two of six games this season. Scott and running mate Davin Meggett might not get much work this week against a Boston College defense that ranks 10th in the country against the run (90.3 yards per game) and features the nation’s leading tackler in linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Offensively, the Eagles will lean heavily on tailback Montel Harris, as usual. Harris gets so little help that even though he leads all ACC players in rushing (96.3 ypg), Boston College ranks last in the conference as a team in that category (103.3 ypg).
Georgia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) at Clemson (3-3, 1-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech and Clemson have produced some great games in recent years. Twelve of the last 15 meetings between the teams, including the last three, have been decided by five points or fewer.
This contest has a chance to fit in nicely with the rest. The Yellow Jackets have put together a three-game winning streak — albeit against unimpressive competition — and the Tigers got back on track last week with a 31–7 victory over Maryland.
Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt enters this game with a chance to beat Clemson twice in the same afternoon. Nesbitt needs just 44 rushing yards to break former Clemson star Woodrow Dantzler’s ACC rushing record for quarterbacks (2,761 yards). Nesbitt, who orchestrates a spread-option attack that is second in the country in rushing (328.1 yards per game), already has four 100-yard rushing games this season.
The Yellow Jackets hope to benefit from the return of starting offensive tackle Phil Smith, who missed last week’s 42–14 victory over Middle Tennessee State with an ankle injury. Smith could play an important role in this game because he will line up across from Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who leads the nation in sacks (1.5 per game) and tackles for loss (2.5 per game).
On the other side, the Tigers hope to welcome back freshman wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the lineup against a Georgia Tech team that has beaten them in six of the last seven meetings. Hopkins missed last week’s game after suffering an “upper body” injury in practice.
Eastern Michigan (1-6) at Virginia (2-4), Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Virginia still is looking for its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent under first-year coach Mike London. The Cavaliers need to be ready this week because they won’t have a better opportunity all season to cross that item off the to-do list.
Eastern Michigan had lost 18 games in a row before rallying from a 21-point deficit to defeat Ball State 41–38 in overtime last week. The Eagles will bring a defense that ranks second to last in the nation in points allowed (43.4 per game) and fourth from the bottom against the run (228.3 yards per game).
Given those numbers — and that fact that three Virginia quarterbacks combined to throw five interceptions in a 44–10 loss to North Carolina last week — the Cavaliers figure to rely on their running game. Enter bruising tailback Keith Payne, who has a team-high eight touchdowns after rushing for 107 yards and a score on 23 carries against the Tar Heels.
Payne and fellow tailback Perry Jones will look for running room behind a starting offensive line that now includes true freshman right tackle Morgan Moses, who is filling in for Landon Bradley (hand injury). Last week Moses became the third true freshman in school history to start at offensive tackle, and he is just the seventh true freshman at an FBS school to start at offensive tackle this season.
North Carolina (4-2, 2-1 ACC) at Miami (4-2, 2-1 ACC), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
North Carolina and No. 25 Miami share more in common than identical overall and conference records. Both teams feature fan bases than have become less than enamored with their head coaches. Butch Davis is in trouble at North Carolina for what has happened off the field, and Randy Shannon has drawn the ire of fans in Miami for what hasn’t happened enough on the field: winning.
Those factors help make this game, already big in terms of the Coastal Division race, even larger. Davis, who was the head coach at Miami from 1995-2000, has guided the Tar Heels to three consecutive victories over the Hurricanes. More importantly for the time being, he has guided the Tar Heels to four consecutive victories this season.
North Carolina will try to extend both of those streaks without senior Zack Pianalto, one of its top offensive weapons. Pianalto, who holds the school record for career receptions by a tight end, is out for the rest of the regular season after suffering a fractured right fibula in UNC’s 44-10 victory at Virginia last week. It’s big blow for an offense that already faced a stiff challenge against a Miami defense that leads the nation in tackles for loss (9.5 per game), ranks second in the country in opponents’ pass efficiency and ranks fourth nationally against the pass (150.7 yards per game).
The Hurricanes, who intercepted five passes in a 28-13 victory at Duke last week, have 12 interceptions through six games after tallying just nine interceptions in 13 games last season. Miami’s ball-hawking defense will need extra sticky fingers against UNC quarterback T.J. Yates, who has 11 touchdown passes and the nation’s lowest interception rate (one pick in 182 pass attempts).
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris hasn’t been nearly as protective of the ball as Yates, but he did play his second interception-free game of the season against Duke. Harris threw four interceptions in a 33–24 loss at North Carolina last season, with cornerback Kendrick Burney picking off three of those passes. Burney has sat out the first six games of this season as a result of NCAA and university investigations into UNC’s program, but it’s possible that he will be cleared in time for this game.
The status of UNC starting linebacker Quan Sturdivant, who has missed the last three games with a strained hamstring, also is questionable. Regardless of whether Sturdivant plays, the Hurricanes will try to maintain their successful ground game (three consecutive 100-yard rushing games for tailback Damien Berry) to lighten the load on Harris.
South Florida at Cincinnati, Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST
There’s not much mystery in what this game means to the participants. South Florida is trying to straighten out its offense and start climbing out of the Big East cellar. The Bulls are 0–2 in league play. Coach Skip Holtz’s team hasn’t produced an offensive touchdown in its last two games against Syracuse and West Virginia. This week, Holtz and his staff looked at changes that could be made to the team’s offense, including checking out freshman Terrence Mitchell, recruited as a cornerback, at receiver.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won two straight and, at 1–0 in Big East play, is setting its sights on a third straight conference title. UC worked all week trying to figure out a ball security problem. It defeated Louisville despite turning the ball over three times. But USF may have a bigger problem to solve. The one area in which the Bearcats are vulnerable is against the pass. They are ranked eighth in the Big East in pass defense. The Bulls, however, are ranked last in pass offense. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has thrown for 803 yards and four touchdowns, but has tossed a whopping 10 interceptions.
Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Saturday, noon EST
This is expected to be an emotional game for 4–2 Rutgers after Scarlet Knight Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spinal injury while making a tackle against Army last weekend.
RU true freshman Chas Dodd will again get the call at quarterback, even though season starter Tom Savage is healthy and ready to go. Dodd has led the Knights to two straight wins, including last week’s 23–20 overtime affair against Army. He has a 138.4 passing efficiency rating, while throwing for 755 yards with five TDs and just three interceptions.
Pittsburgh and quarterback Tino Sunseri came alive last week after a disappointing start to the season. The 3–3 Panthers return home to Heinz Field after waxing Syracuse 45–14 in the Carrier Dome. The test here is to see if Sunseri, who had four touchdown passes against SU, can have similar success against the Big East’s No. 2 team in total defense. The Knights have held opponents to an average of 15.3 points and 292.5 yards. RU likes to blitz — it has 23 QB hurries and 33 tackles for a loss — but, oddly, has just five sacks in six games.
On the flip side, Pitt has the league’s No. 2 rush defense. That will make things even more difficult for a struggling Knights offense, which is seventh in the Big East in total offense and eighth in scoring offense.
Syracuse at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh was the overwhelming preseason pick to win the Big East, but when the Panthers stumbled out of the gate, West Virginia surged to the top of the league. Now the question is, can the Mountaineers top what Pitt did to Syracuse last week?
The Orange was the league’s biggest surprise, but fell hard to the Panthers by 45–14 at home. The 5–1 Mountaineers have 4–2 SU at home this week and come in boasting the Big East’s top-rated defense across the board.
Much will depend on Orange QB Ryan Nassib, who has fared well for most of the season. He is fourth in total offense in the Big East, averaging 214.2 yards per game. Also, running back Delone Carter, whose NFL draft stock is rising, is averaging 93.7 yards rushing.
WVU sophomore QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, continues to impress. He’s third in the Big East in total offense (232.2 ypg), second in passing (226.3 ypg) and has a 156.7 pass efficiency rating.
About the only question in this one surrounds the health of WVU back Noel Devine and the Mountaineer rushing attack, ranked seventh in the Big East. SU has the league’s fifth-best rush defense.
Connecticut at Louisville, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
These two teams are so similar it’s almost scary. Both enter this Big East matchup 3–3. Both are 0–1 in league play. Both are coming off close conference losses. Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense, while Louisville’s is No. 2. The Cardinals’ scoring defense is No. 7 in the league, while UConn’s is No. 8. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Huskies are just 2-point favorites.
Charlie Strong, the coach of the host Cardinals, said this week he was trying to adjust his team’s attitude after it seemed content to simply be in the game at halftime of last week’s loss to Cincinnati. In this one, slowing UConn’s Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 3 rusher, would help with that attitude. Todman is averaging 152.2 yards per game. Connecticut’s passing offense is ranked seventh among the Big East’s eight teams.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have their own rushing attack to worry about. Louisville enters with the league’s No. 1 rush offense, led by the nation’s No. 4 rusher in Bilal Powell. He ran for 209 yards against Cincinnati and has 898 on the season with nine touchdowns on 115 carries.
The Ducks will take the field for the first time in school history as the No. 1 team in the nation. Oregon moved into the top spot of the Associated Press top 25 this week without even playing — the Ducks had a bye while former No. 1 Ohio State went down to Wisconsin. The week off allowed Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas to get healthy. He went out of the Ducks’ last game at Washington State with a shoulder injury but has returned to full participation in practice and will start against the Bruins. UCLA also is coming off a bye. The Bruins have had some extra time to figure out how they could beat Texas on the road but get completely dominated by Cal two weeks later. UCLA may once again be without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, whose balky right knee has forced him to miss practice time this week.
Arizona State at Cal, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
Just when it looked as though the Bears might be able to contend in the Pac-10 this season, they appeared completely overmatched against a USC team that isn’t what it once was. Gone was the generally suffocating defense that Cal has featured this season. Stopped was Shane Vereen and the potent running game. The Bears will have to lick their wounds quickly, because the Sun Devils are fresh off a bye week and feeling good after their win over Washington in their last game. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, who threw two first-half interceptions against USC, had one of his better games at ASU last season, throwing for 351 yards and two touchdowns and engineering a drive in the final minutes that led to a game-winning field goal.
Washington State at Stanford, Saturday, 2:00 p.m. PT
Dare it be said that the Cougars are becoming more competitive? Two weeks ago, they actually slowed Oregon down just a bit in a 43–23 loss. Then last week, it was a normal-looking 24–7 loss to Arizona. Granted, the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Nick Foles in the game, but Washington State continues to do some things better than in recent years. Most notably, there have been improvements in the passing game, where quarterback Jeff Tuel is one of only two Pac-10 quarterbacks to throw for at least 200 yards in every game this season. All that being said, the Cardinal at home should be substantially too tough for the Cougars. Plus, Stanford is coming off a bye and should be well rested.
Washington at Arizona, Saturday, 7:15 p.m. PT
Arizona will try to keep pace with the Pac-10 leaders with a new quarterback. Matt Scott is now the Wildcats’ man behind center for at least a couple weeks after starter Nick Foles went down with a knee injury last week. Scott took over in the second quarter of last week’s game at Washington State and helped the Wildcats to a 24–7 victory. The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off a pulsating double-overtime win over Oregon State, resuscitating their bowl hopes and, for the time being, putting them in the thick of the conference race. Washington enters the weekend one of four teams at 2–1 in Pac-10 play, one game behind Oregon. The Huskies’ potentially explosive offense got going against the Beavers’ solid defense, amassing 475 yards of offense. Washington quarterback Jake Locker appeared to be recovered from the flu, throwing five touchdown passes and accounting for 346 yards of total offense.