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November 11, 2010

Week 11 preview in the ACC

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

Miami at Georgia Tech, noon
Boston College at Duke, noon
Wake Forest at N.C. State, 2 p.m.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina, 3:30 p.m.
Maryland at Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
Clemson at Florida State, 8 p.m.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was talking about his team this week, but his words described the entire ACC Atlantic Division just as accurately.

"This team has to learn how to develop a killer instinct," Fisher said. "It has to learn to take its own identity and not let people get off the ground when they get them down, and not hope to win but understand how to win. ... There is no one on this football team that has reached that level and understands what it takes."

Nobody in the Atlantic Division seems ready to take that step.

N.C. State, Maryland and Florida State had chances to take command of the division race last week. Each lost.

Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) fell 26-20 to Miami, allowing backup quarterback Stephen Morris to throw the winning 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds remaining.

North Carolina State (6-3, 3-2) reached the red zone five times but managed only 13 points in a mistake-filled 14-13 loss at Clemson.

Florida State (6-3, 4-2) gave up a go-ahead field goal in the final minute and lost 37-35 at home to North Carolina when Dustin Hopkins missed a 40-yard kick with two seconds remaining.

All those breakdowns have created a traffic jam atop the division. North Carolina State and Maryland continue to control their destinies. North Carolina State earns a trip to the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C. if it beats Wake Forest at home Saturday and wins at North Carolina and Maryland in the final two weeks. Maryland advances by surviving at Virginia this week and winning home games with Florida State and North Carolina State. FSU earns the division crown if it wins its final two ACC games (versus Clemson this week and at Maryland next week) and North Carolina State stumbles at least once.

"Two losses have in the past gotten you to the championship," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "There are so many crazy things going on in this league and a lot of even teams."

This season, even three losses might get a team to Charlotte.

Clemson (5-4, 3-3) was given up for dead after losing at home to Boston College two weeks ago, but the collapses elsewhere in the division have the Tigers back in the hunt. Clemson already has beaten Maryland and North Carolina State, with Florida State looming this weekend.

This situation isn't unusual. The Atlantic champion has lost at least two conference games every season since the ACC went to the divisional format in 2005. Florida State in 2005 and Boston College in 2008 went 5-3 in conference play and still won the Atlantic.

But the unsettled nature of this division race has caused players and coaches to reach for their computers in an attempt to formulate all the possibilities. Patrick Stevens of D1scourse.com has broken down each of the 128 scenarios.

"I showed a PowerPoint on what each game means. ... I told them that just because you are bowl eligible does not mean you are going to make a bowl," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "So every win from here on out will determine which bowl we go to. That was not all that was mentioned. We also spoke about what Virginia is able to do that could jeopardize not just our bowl contention but our conference championship."

Four teams have legitimate hopes of winning the division title, if they would only start consistently winning games. Florida State has lost two in a row. Maryland has split its past four games. North Carolina State has lost three of its past five games. Clemson has won three of its past four, but the Tigers had dropped three in a row before then.

"We just have to keep pounding it and pounding it," Fisher said. "It's like a nail. [You] just have to keep driving it in the wall, and if you hit a stud, move it up and pound it again. Just keep going and going, and it will sink in and it will happen."

Best matchup: North Carolina WR Dwight Jones against Virginia Tech CBs Rashad Carmichael and Jayron Hosley. Jones heads into this Coastal Division showdown as one of the nation's hottest receivers. Jones has at least seven catches and 100 receiving yards in three of his past four games. He had eight receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown last week in a 37-35 victory over Florida State. North Carolina's game with Virginia Tech assures that Jones will spend the entire day lined up against one of the ACC's top cornerbacks. Hosley has picked off five passes and is ranked third in the nation with 1.50 passes defended per game. Carmichael's fourth interception of the season clinched a 28-21 triumph over Georgia Tech last week. The Carmichael-Hosley combination has helped Virginia Tech rank eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Player on the spot: Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington. In this season of the backup quarterback in the ACC, we just as easily could have gone with Florida State's E.J. Manuel or Miami's Stephen Morris. But even though Manuel is taking reps with the first team this week as Christian Ponder rests his swollen elbow, Ponder still has a chance of starting Saturday's game with Clemson. And we also know what Morris can do after he went the distance and threw the winning touchdown pass against Maryland last week. We went with Washington because he's certain to make his first career start Saturday now that Joshua Nesbitt will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken right arm. Washington ran for 45 yards on 11 carries and went 2-of-7 passing for 80 yards with an interception against Virginia Tech. Washington's performance will go a long way toward determining whether the Yellow Jackets (5-4) finish the regular season with a winning record.

Numbers game: North Carolina QB T.J. Yates' 439-yard outburst against Florida State last week made him only the eighth player in ACC history to throw for at least 400 yards twice in a season. Yates threw for 412 yards in a season-opening loss to LSU. The other members of that fraternity are Duke's Dave Brown (1989), Duke's Anthony Dilweg (1988), Maryland's John Kaleo (1992), Wake Forest's Rusty LaRue (1995), Maryland's Scott Milanovich (1993), Florida State's Chris Weinke (2000) and Boston College's Matt Ryan (2007). Yates and Weinke are the only ACC players to throw for at least 400 yards against two nationally ranked opponents in the same season.

What they're saying

"I'm not sure yet [about 2011]. I'm focused on Wake Forest. I'll follow what the Lord takes me to, wherever that is. If it's here, it's awesome. If it's somewhere else, awesome. It's going to be a great situation for me, no matter what. But I'm focused on winning against Wake Forest. That's the most important thing." -- N.C. State QB Russell Wilson, discussing with The Charlotte Observer whether he would return in 2011. Wilson has a year of football eligibility remaining, but he already has signed a pro baseball contract with the Colorado Rockies' organization. Wilson, a junior quarterback, will be honored along with N.C. State's seniors Saturday before the Wolfpack's home finale

"It seems like we get these 15-play, nine-play, 12-play drives. Then we get to the red zone and it's like, 'What's going on?' " -- Clemson OT Landon Walker, to The (Charleston) Post and Courier about the Tigers' struggles in the red zone. Clemson has scored touchdowns on just three of its past 10 trips inside the opponent's 20. Clemson's red zone offense in conference games ranks last in the ACC

"It's a fight for a bowl game. You don't want to end up in Boise, Idaho. We'd like to go somewhere nice for a bowl game." -- Maryland OT R.J. Dill, to The Sun of Baltimore. Maryland's last postseason appearance was in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, though that bowl no longer has a partnership with the ACC

"I highly doubt I'll get back to 100 [percent] before the season ends, with me playing on it every day, not resting it like it needs to be rested. I can play with it. It's a little nagging twinge back there. It needs to loosen up. But right now, I'm not really worried about it because I can play in the condition I'm in now." -- Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams, discussing his hamstring injury with The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot

"You're going to see a team that says, 'We're not going to take it anymore.' Because once upon a time, Wake Forest could be a sleeper. And now everybody expects what Wake Forest has to offer. Normally when people would play against Wake Forest, it was 'little old Wake Forest.' But now they understand that Wake Forest can turn the light on at any time. And right now we're going to turn the light on this week and you're going to see a truly different Wake Forest team." -- Wake OT Dennis Godfrey, to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. Wake Forest (2-7) has dropped seven consecutive games, by an average margin of 24.1 points

"They've been throwing the ball [all] over the place the last two weeks. They've been putting up scores like middle-school basketball games, like 55 or 40-something points." -- Boston College DE Brad Newman, to EagleAction.com about Duke. The Blue Devils have averaged 44.5 points during their two-game winning streak

Etc.: Boston College LB Luke Kuechly continues to lead the nation at 13.9 tackles per game. He has recorded at least 10 tackles in 18 consecutive games over the past two seasons, the longest such streak of any FBS player. Kuechly, Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers and Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins were included among the 16 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive player. Clemson's defense has allowed only one touchdown in each of its past four games. TCU and West Virginia are the only other FBS schools to match that performance. West Virginia's defense has allowed only one touchdown in five consecutive games. Duke backup QB Brandon Connette has rushed for six touchdowns to tie the school's single-season freshman record. Even though he isn't a starter, Connette has scored more touchdowns than any of his teammates. Duke's 55-48 victory over Virginia last week had the second-highest combined score in ACC history. Clemson beat Wake Forest 82-24 on Oct. 31, 1981. The third-highest total came in Wake Forest's 54-48 victory over Duke earlier this season. Florida State CB Greg Reid returned seven kickoffs a total of 193 yards against North Carolina last week to break a 36-year-old school record. Leon Bright gained 184 yards on kickoff returns during a 56-21 loss to Virginia Tech in 1974. Georgia Tech's Joshua Nesbitt set the ACC record for career rushing yards by a quarterback before breaking his forearm. Nesbitt has rushed for 2,806 yards to break the mark formerly held by Woodrow Dantzler, who ran for 2,761 yards for Clemson from 1998-2001. Maryland has returned four interceptions for touchdowns this season, including LB Alex Wujciak's 60-yard score last week against Miami. No other ACC team has more than two touchdowns on interception returns. Miami QB Jacory Harris will miss his second consecutive game Saturday as he recovers from a concussion. Miami RB Damien Berry also didn't play last week because of a leg injury, and he isn't expected to return against Georgia Tech. Miami leads the nation in pass efficiency defense. The Hurricanes have 16 interceptions and have allowed only five touchdown passes. North Carolina RB Johnny White is out for the rest of the season after breaking his clavicle last week, and RB Shaun Draughn is questionable for Saturday's game with an ankle injury. North Carolina coach Butch Davis now must decide whether to play Ryan Houston, who had planned to redshirt after being suspended for the first five games of the season. North Carolina QB T.J. Yates has 693 career completions and is about to break the school record of Darian Durant, who had 701 completions from 2001-04. North Carolina State K Josh Czajkowski will miss at least the rest of the regular season after injuring his hamstring during a kickoff last week. Virginia QB Marc Verica threw for a school-record 417 yards against Duke last week. He also had 413 yards of total offense to set another school single-game mark. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley is one of only two people to be ranked among the nation's top 12 players in interceptions (fourth with 0.63 per game), passes defended (third with 1.5 per game) and punt return average (12th with 14.93 yards per attempt). Oregon CB Cliff Harris is the only other player in the top 12 in each of those categories. Virginia Tech will be playing without RB David Wilson, DE Chris Drager and WR Dyrell Roberts against North Carolina. Wilson, who scored the winning touchdown against Georgia Tech last week with a 90-yard kickoff return, has mononucleosis. Drager is recovering from a hit he absorbed in the Georgia Tech game, and Roberts will sit out the rest of the regular season after undergoing emergency surgery last week for swelling in his thigh. Wake Forest WR Marshall Williams' 41-yard completion to Chris Givens in a 23-13 loss to Boston College last week was his second TD pass this season. Williams, a fifth-year senior, has completed all five of his career passes, for 174 yards.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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