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September 25, 2008
ACC: No longer a punchline
For the first couple of weeks, the Atlantic Coast Conference's woes made the league a national punchline.
Since then, the ACC has punched back.
Over the past two weeks, the ACC has gone 8-1 in non-conference games against FBS opponents, including a 4-1 mark against teams from Big Six conferences. The ACC has another chance to prove itself this week with three intersectional games against teams from Big Six leagues.
Virginia Tech travels to Nebraska and Florida State faces Colorado at Jacksonville, Fla., in a pair of ACC-Big 12 showdowns. North Carolina State will try to follow up its victory over previously unbeaten East Carolina by knocking off Big East front-runner USF.
"We understand we'd like to represent the ACC well this weekend," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, "but I don't know if you judge (conferences) over a weekend or even a year. You judge it over a period of time. Over a period of time, the ACC's going to be just fine."
The ACC endured plenty of criticism before the season because of its poor record in non-conference games against Big Six foes and its failure to win a BCS game since Florida State's 1999 national championship.
And the league did nothing to help its cause early in the season. The ACC went 3-7 in non-conference games against top division opponents the first two weeks of the season. That included preseason conference favorite Clemson's 34-10 setback against Alabama and Maryland's embarrassing 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee State, a Sun Belt team that has dropped its first two conference games.
The ACC has looked much better lately. Maryland's 35-27 upset of California, North Carolina State's upset of East Carolina, Georgia Tech's surprisingly easy 38-7 triumph over Mississippi State and Miami's 41-23 whipping of Texas A&M may have helped the league restore its reputation.
"I've said all along give this league enough games and we'll be just fine," Beamer said. "The coaching's too good. The teams are just solid football teams."
The ACC could garner more positive notice if Virginia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina State win this weekend.
Then again, it could take more than a few good weeks to change this league's national perception.
"The ACC is a basketball conference is what everybody thinks," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "That's what they think. The Southeastern Conference is strictly football, that's what they think. You have those things. It's always going to be that way."
Colorado RB Rodney Stewart vs. Florida State run defense: Former five-star prospect Darrell Scott arrived at Colorado with all the hype, but Stewart is the first-year running back who has delivered the best results for the Buffaloes so far. Stewart made a national name for himself last week by rushing for 166 yards in a 17-14 overtime victory over West Virginia. Stewart could have a tough time matching that feat Saturday against a Florida State defense that ranks fourth in the nation against the run. The Seminoles are allowing 1.4 yards per carry and 48.3 yards per game. Wake Forest ran for 59 yards on 38 attempts last week while failing to reach the end zone in a 12-3 victory over the Seminoles. Florida State's defense could get even tougher this week now that it welcomes back LB Dekoda Watson, CB Patrick Robinson and a number of other key performers from suspensions.
North Carolina QBs Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton: T.J. Yates has a broken left ankle that will keep him out for six weeks, which leaves the Tar Heels' postseason hopes in the hands of Paulus or Sexton. How much could the Tar Heels suffer without Yates? Consider that North Carolina led Virginia Tech 10-3 when Yates left the game. The Tar Heels ended up losing 20-17. Sexton made five starts in 2006, but the Tar Heels won only one of those games. He hasn't thrown a pass in a game since Butch Davis' arrival as coach in 2007. Paulus went 3-of-8 for 23 yards and threw a pair of interceptions against Virginia Tech. Whoever starts Saturday won't get to ease into his new assignment. The Tar Heels are going on the road to face a Miami team eager for revenge after losing to North Carolina last year. After falling to Virginia Tech a week ago, North Carolina can't afford another loss if it wants to maintain any realistic hope of winning the Coastal Division.
Clemson RB James Davis rushed for three touchdowns last week in a 54-0 rout of South Carolina State. Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz is 5-for-5 and Miami kicker Matt Bosher is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts. Duke WR Eron Riley already has five touchdown catches this season. Duke LB Vincent Rey has five tackles for loss and a touchdown in his last two games. Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis has thrown five touchdown passes without an interception. Georgia Tech OT Andrew Gardner was named the ACC's offensive lineman of the week for the second time this season after helping the Yellow Jackets gain 438 rushing yards against Mississippi State. Maryland RB Da'Rel Scott ranks fifth in the nation with 135.7 rushing yards per game. Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games. North Carolina WR Brandon Tate leads the nation with 265.7 all-purpose yards per game. Virginia Tech RB Darren Evans has rushed for a touchdown in each of the Hokies' four games. Virginia Tech LB Brett Warren has a total of 24 tackles in his last two games. Wake Forest SS Kevin Patterson has picked off three passes in his last two games. He also has forced two fumbles this season. Wake Forest leads the nation with 15 takeaways.
Boston College QB Chris Crane has thrown five interceptions and only two touchdown passes. Clemson QB Cullen Harper has thrown four interceptions and three touchdown passes. Harper had a 27-6 touchdown-interception ratio last season. Florida State QBs Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson combined to go 12-for-36 with five interceptions and no touchdown passes Saturday against Wake Forest. Virginia RB Mikell Simpson has rushed for only 77 yards on 35 carries. Simpson rushed for 579 yards in Virginia's final six games last year. Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank made four field goals to account for all the Demon Deacons' points against Florida State, but he also missed three attempts, including two from 27 and 32 yards.
""Did you watch them against Oregon? Go look at that game. That was the spread that they were defending. I'm not saying anything about South Florida's defense, but if they're the gurus, we'd better go somewhere else." - North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien last week, in response to a question about whether he had consulted with South Florida coaches about how to stop a spread offense. Oregon beat USF 51-21 in the Sun Bowl last season.
"Here's the way I feel about it. He's right. We're not gurus. On the other hand, we try to handle things professionally and not say anything about anyone else's coaching staff. He can say what he wants to. The other thing, I forget what bowl game they were in. That's all I've got to say." -USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham to The St. Petersburg Times in response to O'Brien's criticism. USF plays at North Carolina State this week. North Carolina State went 5-7 and didn't earn a bowl bid last year.
"We've never had a game like that. Five interceptions is really unusual. What I thought was good is that we forced most of the turnovers. The defense made plays. On the couple of fumbles, we knocked the ball loose. Against Baylor, a couple of times they just put the ball on the ground themselves. We really had nothing to do with it. This was one of those games where we earned seven turnovers. That's exactly what we needed. We had to have those turnovers." -Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe about forcing seven turnovers against Florida State.
"So far I feel like I've been doing a good job. I've had some unlucky breaks, some tipped balls and stuff like that. I feel like maybe my stats aren't as good as they were this time last year. I feel like I'm a better quarterback. I'm throwing the ball better. I'm just not getting some of the breaks I was getting last year." -Clemson QB Cullen Harper.
"I think they welcome the challenge, but I think they understand that all the snakes are getting ready to rise. We haven't played an ACC team yet. It's going to be different come Saturday." -Duke coach David Cutcliffe to The Roanoke (Va.) Times on his team's 3-1 start. The Blue Devils enter Saturday's game against Virginia with a 25-game ACC losing streak.
"You have to use this any way you can make it a positive. This is the way you do anything in life. Anytime something doesn't go your way, you have to find a way to keep fighting, keep trying to survive." -North Carolina LB Mark Paschal to CarolinaBlue.com, regarding how the Tar Heels will withstand Yates' injury.
"Well, the boys like my dancing. I warmed up for them tonight. If we can go to Nebraska and get (a win), I'm going to put on a show out there." -Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer to Roanoke (Va.) Times about the "Fancy Gap Frank" jig he performed after the Hokies rallied for a 20-17 victory over North Carolina.
North Carolina State will play USF this week without injured starting QB Russell Wilson and LB Nate Irving. Harrison Beck will start at quarterback and Dwayne Maddox will take Irving's spot at linebacker. Florida State continues to try out different combinations with its young offensive line. Offensive line coach Rick Trickett said this week that he's looking at Joe Tonga at right tackle, where redshirt freshman Antwane Greenlee started the first three games. Miami S Randy Phillips is out six weeks after suffering a leg injury last week at Texas A&M. Former Virginia QB Peter Lalich has announced plans to transfer to Oregon State. Lalich was dismissed from Virginia's team last week after admitting to a probation violation. Duke is a seven-point favorite Saturday against Virginia. According to The Roanoke Times, Duke never before has been favored during its 25-game ACC losing streak. Boston College carries a 19-game non-conference winning streak the best in the nation - into Saturday's game with Rhode Island. Swank's seven field-goal attempts Saturday at Florida State set a school record. Maryland kicker Obi Egekeze went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts Saturday in a 51-24 victory over Eastern Michigan. Egekeze had missed his first five attempts this season. Florida State's loss to Wake Forest allowed Penn State's Joe Paterno to move one win ahead of Bobby Bowden in the all-time career list. Bowden owns a 375-120-4 record and will coach his 500th career game Saturday against Colorado. Only Amos Alonzo Stagg (548) and Paterno (504) have coached more games.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.