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November 13, 2008

ACC: Coastal Division title picture crowded

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

The traffic atop the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division standings is about to clear up considerably.

North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech are tied for first place in the division with 3-2 conference records. Miami plays host to Virginia Tech on Thursday night, while North Carolina travels to Atlantic Division contender Maryland on Saturday.

The schedule leaves North Carolina coach Butch Davis rooting for his former team while Miami and Virginia Tech try to determine the ACC's king of Thursday night.

North Carolina arguably is playing the best of any team in the conference, but the Tar Heels can't win the division title without a little bit of help. Virginia Tech owns a tiebreaker advantage over North Carolina by virtue of its 20-17 victory over the Tar Heels on Sept. 20.

Virginia Tech is the only Coastal Division leader that controls its destiny. North Carolina would win a tiebreaker with Miami because it beat the Hurricanes 28-24 on Sept. 27.

That leaves North Carolina pulling for Miami this week in the battle of Thursday night titans.

Virginia Tech's 23-13 victory over Maryland improved the Hokies' all-time record to 59-30-5 on Thursdays, including a 15-3 mark in ESPN's "Thursday Night Football" package. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer acknowledged there's something special about playing on Thursday night.

"You're the only game on for the most part," Beamer said. "The rest of the country is watching you. I thought it was always like Monday night in the NFL. Thursday night in college football is kind of a special night."

It's also been a special night for Miami. The Hurricanes own a 12-1 record on ESPN Thursday night games.

This marks the first time Miami will play a Thursday night ESPN game since the Hurricanes moved their home from the Orange Bowl to Dolphin Stadium, though their season opener took place on a Thursday night against Charleston Southern in a game that wasn't on ESPN.

Virginia Tech at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
Duke at Clemson, noon
North Carolina at Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Wake Forest at N.C. State, 3:30 p.m.
Boston College at Florida State, 8 p.m.

  • Best matchup
  • Florida State's offensive line vs. Boston College's defensive line: The surprising success of Florida State's young offensive line has gone a long way toward lifting the Seminoles back into ACC title contention this season. The Seminoles start three true freshmen and two sophomores on the line, yet they rank 19th in the nation in rushing and 18th in scoring. The offensive line helped Florida State average nearly 5.5 yards per rush against an exceptional Georgia Tech defensive line two weeks ago, even though an injury limited starting tailback Antone Smith to nine carries. Florida State could face an equally tough challenge Saturday against Boston College's front four, which has helped the Eagles rank ninth in the nation in total defense while delivering three shutouts. Florida State center Ryan McMahon and guards Rodney Hudson and David Spurlock will have their hands full against Boston College tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace. Raji delivered a dominant performance last week in the Eagles' 17-0 rout of Notre Dame. As Warchant.com reported this week, Raji and Brace average 323.5 pounds, while the trio of McMahon, Hudson and Spurlock average only 283 pounds. "They are big, got big old legs and they are pretty quick for how big they are," McMahon told Warchant.com. "We just have to get into position and attack them. … [They're] going to be the biggest guys we play this year."

  • Player to watch
  • North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson: North Carolina State remains in last place in the Atlantic Division, but Wilson's emergence has made the Wolfpack a potential spoiler in the ACC title chase. Wilson leads the conference in passing efficiency and has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only one interception this season. The redshirt freshman could struggle to continue his season-long penchant for avoiding mistakes Saturday against Wake Forest's veteran secondary. Alphonso Smith has picked off five passes and leads the nation in passes defended, while Kevin Patterson has four interceptions and returned one for a 53-yard touchdown last week in a 28-17 victory over Virginia. Wake Forest's secondary may give Wilson the toughest challenge of his young career. If Wilson passes the test, North Carolina State could devastate Wake Forest's hopes of winning the Atlantic Division title.

  • Who's hot
  • Boston College SS Paul Anderson picked off two passes against Notre Dame – scoring on one of them – and has five interceptions this season. … Florida State RB Jermaine Thomas has rushed for 224 yards on just 20 attempts in his last two games. … Florida State kicker Graham Gano has made 17 consecutive field-goal attempts, including five from at least 50 yards. … Florida State DE Everette Brown has collected six sacks in his last three games. … Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for 302 yards on 35 carries over his last two games. … Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson has recorded a sack in three consecutive games. … North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks has caught four touchdown passes in his last two games. … North Carolina SS Trimane Goddard has picked off a pass in back-to-back games and shares the NCAA lead with six interceptions. … North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has thrown 10 touchdown passes without an interception in his last five games. … Virginia Tech RB Darren Evans has rushed for nine touchdowns this season and gained 253 yards – the second-highest total ever by an ACC freshman – in a 23-13 victory over Maryland last week. Former North Carolina star Amos Lawrence rushed for an ACC freshman record 286 yards against Virginia in 1977. … Virginia Tech DE Orion Martin has recorded a sack in five of his last six games. … Wake Forest WR Demir Boldin has caught eight passes in back-to-back games.

  • Who's not
  • Boston College kicker Steve Aponavicius has gone 2-for-7 on field-goal attempts in his last four games. … After delivering 6½ sacks in his first six games of the season, Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan has not recorded a sack in his last four games. … North Carolina State RB Andre Brown has averaged less than 4 yards per carry in each of his last two games. … Virginia kicker Yannick Reyering is 2-for-5 on field-goal attempts in his last five games. …Wake Forest is averaging a league-low 2.8 yards per carry and Duke is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Clemson (90th), Wake Forest (98th), Duke (101st), North Carolina State (105th) and Virginia (110th) all rank 90th or lower in rushing offense.

  • What they're saying
  • "I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the University of Tennessee job. It's a great job, but I have no interest in it. As I've said for the last couple of weeks, I love being here. My family loves being in Carolina. We're building with the administration. We're doing everything we can every single day to build a championship football program here."
    − North Carolina coach Butch Davis.

    "Since I've come here that's always been my motivation, to come here and outdo my cousin. He did a lot of great things here, is the youngest guy to go up in the Ring of Honor. Just following in his footsteps, I feel like it's a privilege. It's only right to try and showcase as much talent as I can on the night he's getting honored."
    − Miami RB Javarris James to CaneSport.com. James' cousin, Arizona Cardinals running back Edgerrin James, is being inducted into Miami's Ring of Honor on Thursday.

    "At our first team meeting this week, I asked our guys to raise their hands if they were recruited or offered by Notre Dame. No one raised their hands. I told them they may not be good enough to be recruited by Notre Dame, but they sure are good enough to play at Boston College."
    − Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski to The Boston Globe after the Eagles' 17-0 victory over Notre Dame.

    "I can only coach one team at a time, but they're in our division and we will see them again."
    − Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson at an Atlanta Touchdown Club luncheon in response to a question about North Carolina throwing the ball while leading the Yellow Jackets 28-7 with less than four minutes remaining, according to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    "Get one of those little portable TVs and come to the game, so you can watch the basketball game and football game at the same time. Or you can get an iPhone or something like that, and get an update of the [basketball] game. But you definitely need to be at football, at the Maryland game, if you need to pick and choose."
    − North Carolina DT Marvin Austin telling the (Raleigh) News & Observer how fans should spend their Saturday. North Carolina's football game at Maryland on Saturday begins a half-hour before the start of the Tar Heels' home basketball game with Penn.

    "It depends on whether [North Carolina State] coach [Tom] O'Brien will let him kick a Nerf ball. If he can kick a Nerf ball, he might be in the lineup. I don't think he's going to be able to kick a big-boy football. He was actually kicking a Nerf ball in practice [Monday] night. He thought the volleyball was a little too rugged, so we went to the Nerf ball. We're probably going to go Nerf, volleyball, maybe beach ball and then football."
    − Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe to the Winston-Salem Journal about kicker Sam Swank's attempt to come back from a quadriceps injury that will likely sideline the preseason All-America candidate for a sixth consecutive game this week. Swank reportedly kicked a volleyball during workouts two weeks ago, but he switched to the Nerf this week.

  • Etc.
  • Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor is questionable for the Miami game after sitting out a victory over Maryland last week with a high ankle sprain. … The ACC is the only conference in the country that has all its teams still in contention for bowl eligibility. North Carolina State must win all three of its remaining games to have any shot at earning a bowl bid. … Boston College's victory over Notre Dame last week improved the ACC's non-conference record to 34-10, including a 12-7 mark against teams from the "Big Six" conferences and Notre Dame. Boston College has won an NCAA-leading 21 consecutive non-conference games. … North Carolina has dismissed DE Darius Powell from its squad for a violation of team rules. … Miami OT Jason Fox is listed as doubtful for the Virginia Tech game because of a leg injury. … Florida State is holding a "blackout" for Saturday's game with Boston College. The Seminoles will wear all-black jerseys and pants. The school also is encouraging fans to also wear black to the game. … North Carolina TE Zack Pianalto broke a leg while scoring a touchdown against Georgia Tech last week. Pianalto likely will miss the remainder of the season. … Wake Forest RB Josh Adams could return to action this week after missing two games with a sprained ankle. … Duke CB Jabari Marshall's 2,487 career kickoff return yards puts him just 201 away from North Carolina WR Brandon Tate's ACC record. Tate suffered a career-ending knee injury earlier this season. … Clemson WR Aaron Kelly has 207 career receptions and needs just 10 more catches to break former Wake Forest player Desmond Clark's ACC record. … Florida State kicker Graham Gano (10.3 points per game) and Florida State RB Antone Smith (9.3 points per game) are the ACC's two leading scorers. They are aiming to become the first teammates to finish first and second in the league in scoring since 1995, when Florida State's Warrick Dunn, Scott Bentley and Andre Cooper were the league's top three scorers. … Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner's current career completion percentage of .677 is the best in ACC history.

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

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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