ACC Weekend Preview
By: Athlon Sports | 9/23/10, 7:07 AM EDT
Cincinnati (1–1) at NC State (2–0)
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
NC State looks to start 3–0 for the first time since 2002 when it hosts Cincinnati in a survival-of-the-fittest situation that marks the first meeting between the schools. Each team will play after only four days of rest, and each also will play its third game in 12 days.
The Wolfpack have an advantage in that they’re at home and don’t have to travel, but Cincinnati should be the fresher team. The Bearcats are coming off a 40–7 win over Football Championship Subdivision member Indiana State that allowed them to rest their key players in the second half. NC State, meanwhile, had to gut out a 28–21 victory in 87-degree heat at Central Florida. The Wolfpack didn’t arrive back home until 3:15 a.m. Sunday, leading to a sluggish practice Monday.
NC State coach Tom O’Brien has expressed his displeasure with the scheduling arrangement, but he has had no reason to complain about his defense so far. The Wolfpack forced five turnovers against UCF and rank second nationally in turnover margin (plus-3.0 per game).
The Bearcats still are adjusting to life without top wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, a USC transfer who was lost for the season in Week 1. Cincinnati has yielded 10 sacks this season, including eight in the opener, after allowing a total of 15 sacks in 13 games last season.
Georgia Tech (1–1, 0–0 ACC) at North Carolina (0–1, 0–0 ACC)
Saturday, noon ET
Coastal Division rivals Georgia Tech and North Carolina already have dealt with adversity in this young season, but each gets a clean slate of sorts with its conference opener.
The Yellow Jackets, who have won 10 of their last 12 meetings with the Tar Heels, are looking to bounce back from a 28–25 defeat at Kansas that bounced them from the top 25. Georgia Tech is 7–0 in games following a loss under head coach Paul Johnson, whose spread-option offense is second nationally in rushing (331.5 yards per game).
Georgia Tech has a chance to get back two starters who missed the Kansas game for health reasons. Safety Cooper Taylor, who was held out last week as a precaution after leaving the opener with a heat-related illness, was back at practice this week. So was left guard Will Jackson, who went down with a sprained knee in Week 1.
The Tar Heels had an open date last week after losing to LSU 30–24 in their opener, a game in which 13 UNC players (including seven starters on defense) were held out because of investigations into possible improper contact with sports agents and possible academic misconduct. UNC found out early in the week that one of those players, senior tailback Shaun Draughn, has been cleared to play against Georgia Tech.
Draughn enters this game No. 3 on the depth chart behind Johnny White and Anthony Elzy, but he was the starter heading into the season. His return should boost a UNC rushing attack that managed only 24 yards against LSU.
Maryland (2–0) at West Virginia (2–0)
Saturday, noon ET
The good news for Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen and West Virginia’s Bill Stewart, a pair of embattled head coaches, is that one of them is going to start the season 3–0. That’s just the kind of tonic each of them needs to soothe fan bases that have been less than pleased with recent seasons.
A win here would be an especially big step forward for the Terrapins, who haven’t been 2–0 since Friedgen’s first year on the job (2001). Maryland, coming off a 62–3 thumping of Football Championship Subdivision member Morgan State, already has equaled its win total from 2009. The No. 21 Mountaineers, meanwhile, rallied to force overtime last week at Marshall and won 24–21.
At issue this week is how effective West Virginia, which features senior tailback Noel Devine, will be with a short-handed defense. Starting linebacker Pat Lazear has missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury and is questionable to play against the Terrapins. The team’s top cover corner, senior Brandon Hogan, is out after being suspended indefinitely following a DUI charge. Hogan’s absence will put extra stress on a secondary that is getting little help from the pass rush — West Virginia has yet to record a sack this season.
The Terrapins will try to exploit those vulnerabilities with an offense that could feature two quarterbacks. Jamarr Robinson has been effective as a runner, but his poor passing has opened the door for redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien to get playing time. If O’Brien is healthy — he suffered a sprained ankle against Morgan State — he likely will get some snaps in this game.
East Carolina (2–0) at Virginia Tech (0–2)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET
When Virginia Tech kicked off the season hoping to win the BCS championship game, no one imagined that at this point the team still would be hoping to win its first regular-season game. The Hokies, 0–2 for the first time since 1995 after a shocking 21–16 loss to James Madison last week, will try to regroup against East Carolina.
The task won’t be an easy one against the Pirates, who are undefeated under first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill. East Carolina features a quarterback familiar to Virginia Tech in Dominique Davis, who started for Boston College against the Hokies in the 2008 ACC championship game. Davis engineers an ECU offense averaging 50.0 points per game (seventh nationally), and he’ll take aim at a Virginia Tech defense plagued by inexperience and inconsistency.
Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster called in his players for a 6:45 a.m. meeting Monday, letting them know that he wasn’t going to tolerate missed tackles and missed assignments against the Pirates. Foster also must make at least one personnel change, with starting defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last week.
It’s up to Virginia Tech’s offense to pick up the slack while the defense gains its footing. Tailback Ryan Williams rushed for 179 yards in the Hokies’ 16–3 win over East Carolina last season, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor is looking to feast on an ECU defense that ranks 119th nationally against the pass (355.5 yards per game).
Alabama (2–0) at Duke (1–1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
It’s tough enough for Duke that top-ranked Alabama rolls into town with a 26-game regular-season winning streak. But then there’s this: The Crimson Tide are getting reinforcements. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and BCS championship defensive MVP Marcell Dareus, two of Alabama’s top players, could see their first action of the season after sitting out the first two games.
Ingram is questionable to play against the Blue Devils after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the week leading up to Alabama’s season-opening victory over San Jose State. Dareus, meanwhile, is expected to start at defensive end after serving a two-game suspension for engaging in improper contact with an agent.
Those personnel gains make a difficult task even more difficult for Duke, which is coming off a 54–48 loss at Wake Forest last week. Led by head coach David Cutcliffe, a 1976 graduate of Alabama, the Blue Devils will try to attack the Crimson Tide with a potent passing game.
Quarterback Sean Renfree is only the third player in ACC history to pass for at least 350 yards in the first two starts of his career, and wideout Conner Vernon is second in the nation in receiving yards (155.0 per game). It’s up to Duke’s offensive line to slow down Alabama’s front seven, which was ferocious in a 24–3 victory over Penn State last week, to give Renfree a chance to make plays.
BYU (1–1) at Florida State (1–1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Brigham Young heads to Florida State for its first game on the East Coast since 2006 — a contest featuring two proud programs that spent this week licking their wounds after lopsided losses on the road. BYU fell at Air Force 35–14 in Week 2, while Florida State was embarrassed 47–17 at Oklahoma.
Both teams are looking for improved play at quarterback to help them get back into the win column, but only one squad knows which player it’s counting on for that improvement. Florida State coach Jim Fisher will turn to senior Christian Ponder, who is coming off a rare poor performance in which he completed just 11-of-28 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions against the Sooners. Ponder has enjoyed success against the Cougars before, passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another score in FSU’s 54–28 win at BYU last season.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, meanwhile, has his pick of passers. The Cougars alternated series with junior Riley Nelson and freshman Jake Heaps last week, but Mendenhall said such switches would be more situational than scripted against the Seminoles.
Nelson, the better runner of the two quarterbacks, will start the game. But Heaps, the better passer, no doubt could be a threat against a Florida State defense that the Sooners shredded through the air for 394 yards and four touchdown passes last week.
Clemson (2–0) at Auburn (2–0)
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Big-time matchups have been a nightmare for the ACC so far this season. First, LSU beat North Carolina. Then Boise State knocked off Virginia Tech. Last week Ohio State defeated Miami, and Oklahoma throttled Florida State. Clemson is hoping to fare better at No. 16 Auburn in the first regular-season meeting between the schools since 1971.
Both teams are off to fast starts, with Auburn entering play fresh off a 17–14 win at Mississippi State and Clemson coming off a 58–21 rout of Presbyterian. Clemson should benefit from the return of two defensive starters from injury. Linebacker Brandon Maye, who is from Mobile, Ala., and grew up a huge Auburn fan, will see his first action of the season after having knee surgery. Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, who sat out last week as a precaution after suffering a sprained knee, also will be back.
Auburn, which has defeated Clemson 13 consecutive times dating to 1951, is hoping to get a couple of players back as well. Starting left tackle Lee Ziemba left last week’s game with an injured right knee and didn’t return, and tailback Mario Fannin departed in the fourth quarter with a left shoulder problem. Both players are expected to be able to play this week.
The key to the game could be the play of quarterbacks Kyle Parker and Cameron Newton. Parker, who became the first athlete in Division I history to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year when he hit his 20th homer at Auburn in June, has thrown four touchdown passes and one interception this season. Newton, meanwhile, has thrown five touchdown passes and one interception while averaging 120.5 yards rushing per game for Auburn’s fast-paced offense.
Wake Forest (2–0) at Stanford (2–0)
Saturday, 11:15 p.m. ET
Wake Forest will play at Stanford this week, as long as the players and coaches can stay up late enough for kickoff. The Demon Deacons will make the longest road trip in school history to play their first game in California, and they’ll do so at the latest start time ever for a Stanford home game.
The Demon Deacons won the only previous meeting between the teams, a 24–17 decision in Winston-Salem last season, and they enter this contest with plenty of momentum. Wake Forest ranks third nationally in scoring (53.5 points per game) and fourth in the country in rushing (322.0 yards per game) after a 54–48 victory over Duke last week.
Even with all of that production, the Demon Deacons will break in a new starting quarterback against Stanford. True freshman Tanner Price, who passed for 190 yards and accounted for four touchdowns last week, will take the reins from sophomore Ted Stachitas. Stachitas left the Duke game with an injury to his non-throwing hand, and his status for this week is questionable. But if he is healthy enough to play, he likely will get some snaps.
No. 19 Stanford counters with a star quarterback in Andrew Luck, who has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions this season. Luck will take aim at a Wake Forest secondary that likely will be without starting cornerback Josh Bush, who injured a hamstring last week.
The Cardinal, seeking their first 3–0 start since 2001, appear to have an advantage defensively against Wake Forest. After a 35–0 victory at UCLA last week, its first road shutout since 1974, Stanford ranks seventh nationally in total yards allowed (200.0 per game) and passing yards allowed (97.0 per game).
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