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November 18, 2010

Week 12 preview in the ACC

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

THE SCHEDULE
N.C. State at North Carolina, noon
Virginia at Boston College, noon
Duke at Georgia Tech, 1:30 p.m.
Clemson at Wake Forest, 2 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Miami, 3:30 p.m.
Florida State at Maryland, 8 p.m.

The previously convoluted ACC title race cleared up quite a bit last week. This week, it could get settled for good.

Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC) can clinch the Coastal Division title by winning Saturday at Miami (7-3, 5-2). Florida State (7-3, 5-2) can wrap up the Atlantic Division crown if it wins at Maryland (7-3, 4-2) and N.C. State (7-3, 4-2) falls at North Carolina (6-4, 3-3).

While both teams could lock up their spots in the Dec. 4 ACC championship game in Charlotte this week, Virginia Tech's path is much more direct.

Virginia Tech need only win one of its two remaining games to lock up the Coastal title. Miami would win the Coastal only if it beats Virginia Tech this week and the Hokies lose at home to Virginia (4-6, 1-5) next week.

FSU needs help to win the Atlantic race. N.C. State and Maryland can't clinch the Atlantic title this week, but both teams remain in control of their destinies.

Even though his team is in command of the Coastal race, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer doesn't expect the Hokies to take anything for granted.

"Our leadership has been good, and we play each game as hard as we can possibly play it," Beamer said. "It doesn't take long to realize you better play a great, great football game this weekend against this Miami team. You know they've got it. They are good. I think we've done a good job at taking it one game at a time and playing it as hard as we can. I expect us to do the same this week."

The Atlantic race is a little more complicated, though it's much clearer now than it was a week ago.

Florida State wins the division if it beats Maryland this week and N.C. State loses one of its two remaining games (Saturday at North Carolina or Nov. 27 at Maryland). But FSU is eliminated if it loses Saturday.

N.C. State is the champ if it wins each of its two remaining games. If N.C. State and Florida State both lose Saturday, the Wolfpack still would get to Charlotte if they won at Maryland next week.

Maryland wears the crown if it beats Florida State this week and knocks off N.C. State next week.

That makes Saturday's Florida State-Maryland matchup the equivalent of an elimination game for both teams. It could come down to how Maryland reacts to an unfamiliar situation.

FSU was picked to win the Atlantic Division this season and often has spent the last month of a season competing for the division title, though the Seminoles haven't actually won the Atlantic since 2005. Maryland went 2-10 last season and was picked to finish last in the Atlantic again this season.

"I think our team hopefully is ready to take the next step," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said.

Best matchup: Miami WR Leonard Hankerson vs. Virginia Tech CBs Jayron Hosley and Rashad Carmichael. Hankerson tied Michael Irvin's single-season school record Saturday with his 11th touchdown catch of the season. Hankerson has 51 catches for an ACC-leading 879 yards, and he has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games. Hankerson got off to a fast start this season and remained equally productive since QB Stephen Morris stepped in for an injured Jacory Harris in the past three games. Hankerson now will match up against the ACC's top cornerback tandem. Hosley has seven interceptions to tie for the NCAA lead, and he ranks second in the nation with 1.56 passes defended per game. Carmichael has four picks and made a game-clinching interception in the end zone against Georgia Tech two weeks ago.

Player on the spot: North Carolina CB Kendric Burney. This first-team All-ACC player from last season was caught up in the North Carolina off-field investigation and didn't play the first half of this season. Saturday will be just his fourth game of the season, and he's looked rusty so far. North Carolina needs him to recapture his all-league form Saturday as it attempts to slow down N.c. State QB Russell Wilson, who has thrown six TD passes and no interceptions in victories over the Tar Heels in the past two seasons. UNC's chances of ending its recent history of frustration in this rivalry depend on whether Burney and the rest of the secondary have more success defending Wilson.

Numbers game: N.C. State LB Nate Irving and Boston College LB Luke Kuechly each delivered milestone performances last week. Irving had eight tackles for loss in a 38-3 rout of Wake Forest; that represents the highest FBS single-game total of tackles for loss since the NCAA began tracking that statistic in 2000. Kuechly's 21-tackle effort in a 21-16 victory over Duke last week made him the first FBS player to deliver two 20-tackle games since San Jose State's Matthew Castelo did it in 2006. Kuechly made 20 tackles in a 44-17 loss to N.C. State on Oct. 9. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Memphis' Jamon Hughes are the only other FBS players this season with 21 tackles in a game. Kuechly has a season total of 146 tackles -- 26 more than anyone else.

What they're saying

"This year hasn't quite gone the way we want it to go on the scoreboard, but that doesn't mean we haven't made some progress. When we look back on this season, we're going to see that we made some progress. It's just going to be a scar to remind us of our growing pains. I just need a little bit of patience to build this program and get it the way we want it. Everyone needs to back off the cliff, let me do my job, not be destructive and we're going to be all right." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

"Coach [Butch] Davis doesn't really put one team above the other. It's obvious that these guys [at N.C. State] kind of have us circled all year. Maybe it's not like that this year. I don't know. They talk a lot of junk. It's fun to read and listen to, but when we step out on the field, I think the players have to take it more personal." -- North Carolina FS Deunta Williams, discussing the Tar Heels' three-game losing streak to N.C. State to the Winston-Salem Journal

"What we talked about this past offseason was we kind of made it too personal in the past couple of years. We kind of put too much focus on it. I think it kind of hurt us in our preparation that we made it too personal in the past couple of years. We made it too much about State and not enough about us." -- UNC QB T.J. Yates, offering an entirely different reason for the Tar Heels' struggles with N.C. State in the same Journal story

"I think [complacency] is normal sometimes and you try to fight it, but when guys have success, they become somewhat complacent. It is not only here. It happens everywhere. That is what you fight as a coach all the time. Sometimes you are more successful at fighting it than others. I think that is part of the problem but not the whole problem." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson

"He's probably playing the best out of everybody in the ACC conference when you take a look at it with his quarterback production and managing the football team. If you look up his stats, they're unbelievable compared to anyone else." -- Miami coach Randy Shannon, on Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor

"My boy 'Hank' is making me so proud. I don't see any reason why 'Hank' shouldn't go first round [in the draft]. A team would be crazy not to pick him. I'm telling you, this guy is going to be a star in the league. If he gets to a good team with a good quarterback, I guarantee he'll be a big star in this league." -- Former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper, speaking to the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel about Miami WR Leonard Hankerson. Duper has been working with Hankerson since the summer of 2009

"I was thinking it's one-in-a-million chance of a kicker getting a chance [to win a game] in back-to-back weeks. I said God had a plan for the first kick and he had a plan for the second kick, so I was just glad I had the opportunity." -- Florida State K Dustin Hopkins, to Warchant.com. One week after missing a potential winning 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a 37-35 loss to North Carolina, Hopkins made a 55-yarder in the final play of a 16-13 triumph over Clemson

Etc.: Boston College leads the nation in run defense. The Eagles are allowing 74.6 rushing yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry. BC's defense has allowed only one offensive touchdown in the past 13 quarters. The lone touchdown came on a trick play, as Wake Forest WR Marshall Williams got the ball on a reverse and threw a 41-yard completion to Chris Givens in the Demon Deacons' 23-13 loss to Boston College. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers was named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Bowers and Boston College LB Luke Kuechly are among the five finalists for the Nagurski Award, which goes each season to the nation's top overall defensive player. Duke S August Campbell's 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown last week represented the longest fumble return in school history. The previous record was set by Ed Rushton, who had a 77-yard return against Pittsburgh in 1956. Florida State QB Christian Ponder is expected to return to action Saturday after missing last week's victory over Clemson with an elbow injury. Ponder said doctors drained 500 cubic centimeters of fluid from his elbow last week. Georgia Tech has played in 13 consecutive bowl games to match Georgia for the fourth-longest active bowl streak. The Yellow Jackets have a chance to extend their streak and end Georgia's streak in the next two weeks. Georgia Tech (5-5) is one win away bowl eligibility and has games remaining with Duke this week and Georgia next week. Georgia (5-6) must beat Georgia Tech next week to become bowl eligible. Maryland will wear special Under Armour-designed camouflage uniforms Saturday to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Maryland's athletic department is donating game tickets to local military bases and the Veteran Tickets Foundation. Miami's Stephen Morris will earn his third consecutive start Saturday in place of Jacory Harris, who continues to recover from a concussion. Morris has led the Hurricanes to back-to-back wins, though coach Randy Shannon has indicated that Harris will regain the starting job once he's cleared to play. North Carolina FB Devon Ramsay and DE Michael McAdoo have been ruled permanently ineligible as part of the NCAA investigation into the Tar Heels' football program. N.C. State set a school record with its average home attendance of 56,876 this season. N.C. State TE George Bryan has been named one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. He has missed the majority of the year with a series of injuries. Virginia WRs Kris Burd and Dontrell Inman are the first wide receiver duo in school history to each catch 40 passes in the same season. Virginia has had at least two players catch 40 passes in the same season four other times, but this represents the first instance that two wide receivers accomplished that feat. Virginia Tech K Chris Hazley has made 17 consecutive field goals since missing his first attempt of the season. He isn't the only ACC kicker on a hot streak. Duke's Will Snyderwine has made 16 consecutive attempts. Wake Forest QB Tanner Price has broken the school's 32-year-old records for passing yards and completions by a true freshman. Price has completed 110 passes for 1,125 yards. David Webber completed 101 passes for 1,070 yards as a true freshman in 1978. Riley Skinner was a redshirt freshman in 2006 when he had 171 completions for 2,051 yards while leading Wake Forest to the ACC title.

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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