ACC preview: Coastal showdown

ACC preview: Coastal showdown
November 7, 2013, 10:15 am
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No. 3 Florida State @ Wake Forest, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
Virginia @ North Carolina, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
Syracuse @ Maryland, Sat. 3:30 p.m. on CSN
Boston College @ New Mexico State, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
NC State @ Duke, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Virginia Tech @ No. 11 Miami, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
No. 23 Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Matchup of the week: Virginia Tech @ No. 11 Miami, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

This one may have lost some of its luster in recent weeks with Virginia Tech’s struggles and Miami being handed its first loss, but for ACC fans, this matchup is always compelling.

Old rivals who traveled together from the Big East will meet in a Coastal division showdown that carries major implications as to who will represent the division in the ACC championship.

After a surprisingly weak 2012 season, Virginia Tech seemed to have righted the ship after a 6-1 start in which their only loss came against top-ranked Alabama. Someone must have kidnapped the real Hokies during the bye week because this has not looked like the same team.

Since returning from the bye Virginia Tech has lost its last two to Duke and Boston College, two teams the Hokies typically dispatch with little effort. Many fingers have pointed in the direction of embattled quarterback Logan Thomas. His eight turnovers in the last two weeks were likely the difference between an 8-1 and a 6-3 record.

Miami has quietly had a spectacular season, jumping out to a 7-0 start. The Hurricanes’ biggest win of the season, however, may actually have come off the football field.  On October 22, the NCAA ruled that Miami would not receive any further bowl bans resulting from the Nevin Shapiro investigation leaving the team poised to make its first bowl appearance since the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 2010.

Florida State, however, proved last week why Miami had received little attention even with a 7-0 record. The Hurricanes fell 41-14 as the Seminoles showed they still remain the class of the ACC. To add insult to injury, running back Duke Johnson was lost for the season after breaking his ankle in the game.

This is an elimination game for the Hokies who, even if they win out still need Duke to lose once more in order to win the division. A win for Miami would all but wrap up the division for the Hurricanes. Will the vaunted Virginia Tech defense do enough to makeup for the offenses’ struggles? Can Miami overcome the loss of Johnson?

Throw out the records because when these two rivals meet, anything can happen.

Player to watch: Marquise Williams, QB, sophomore, North Carolina

With the news that a shoulder injury to Bryn Renner’s college career was over due to a season-ending shoulder injury, the Williams era in North Carolina began.

Williams is not exactly being thrown to the fire as he had been rotating with Renner on a limited basis throughout the season, but now he will be expected to carry the full load. Williams did make an extended appearance against Virginia Tech when Renner was injured and did fairly well, completing 23 of 35 passes for 277 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The task this week should not be as difficult as the Tar Heels host Virginia. Still, changing a quarterback midseason can always be tricky.

After a shaky start, it appeared that North Carolina had finally turned things around with wins over Boston College and NC State. Needing three more wins to become bowl eligible and having four games left on the schedule, this Saturday’s game suddenly looks to be critically important. The Tar Heels cannot afford too much of a learning curve from Williams if they hope to make a bowl appearance.

Upset alert: NC State @ Duke, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

NC State and Duke are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Wolfpack have lost their last four and the Blue Devils have won their last four. NC State must win all four of their remaining games to become bowl eligible while Duke reached that mark two weeks ago with their improbable upset of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All signs say Duke should keep right on rolling over the hapless Wolfpack. Why the upset alert? Because Duke cannot possibly be this good.

This is not a simple anti-Duke bias; the Blue Devils gave up 58 points to a mediocre Pitt, struggled against Troy, and needed a miraculous comeback to defeat a really bad Virginia team. Though their win over the Hokies was impressive, Virginia Tech still outgained the Devils, turned the ball over four times, and missed two field goals. Duke also failed to convert a single third down. In other week, this would have been a loss.

NC State has looked really bad of late, but this is a week where Duke will look like Duke again, even if only for a moment. The Devils are not a team used to success; this marks the first time ever the Devils have been bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons. After a bye week to revel in their success, Duke may struggle to keep their foot on the gas this week.

On CSN: Syracuse @ Maryland, Sat. 3:30 p.m.

Maryland is still seeking that elusive sixth win despite a 5-1 start to the season. Will coach Randy Edsall finally lead the Terps to a bowl game in his third season? This week’s game against his alma mater may be his best chance.

Syracuse heads to college park for the first and only ACC matchup between these two programs. The Orange are coming off a 13-0 win over Wake Forest and hope to keep that momentum going and their own bowl hopes alive.

Catch the action on CSN this Saturday starting at 3:30 p.m.