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September 17, 2009

Weekend breakdown of the ACC

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

Georgia Tech at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
Boston College at Clemson, noon
Duke at Kansas, noon
East Carolina at North Carolina, noon
Nebraska at Virginia Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia at Southern Miss, 3:30 p.m.
Gardner-Webb at N.C. State, 6 p.m.
Elon at Wake Forest, 6 p.m.
Florida State at BYU, 7 p.m.
For the second time in three weeks, Virginia Tech finds itself trying to justify its preseason hype in a non-conference game against a traditional power.

The scenario seems familiar, yet so much has changed.

Virginia Tech opened its season intent on emerging as a contender for a national title. Those hopes likely vanished with a season-opening 34-24 loss to Alabama.

The Hokies also entered that game with serious concerns about how their rushing attack would fare after learning Darren Evans would miss the season with a knee injury. They're not worrying about that anymore.

True freshman David Wilson rushed for 165 yards and redshirt freshman Ryan Williams gained 164 yards last week in a 52-10 rout of Marshall. That made them the fourth running back tandem in ACC history - and first from Virginia Tech - to rush for at least 160 yards in the same game.

"They've got a burst to them," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They had a good day. Both of them broke several tackles, which you like to see in a running back. We thought they were going to be good. They're just so young."

But the biggest difference between this matchup and the season opener centers on the Hokies' opponent. In the opener, Virginia Tech was the team with the point to prove, the upstart trying to knock off an Alabama team that had won its first 12 games a year earlier. Alabama already had re-established itself as one of the nation's top programs. Nebraska isn't quite there yet.

The team that won three national championships in the 1990s endured losing seasons in 2004 and '07. The Huskers went 9-4 last season in their first year under Bo Pelini and have opened this season with lopsided wins over Sun Belt programs Florida Atlantic add Arkansas State. But they're lacking the signature win that would show they're ready to rejoin the nation's elite.

A victory at Virginia Tech would make that kind of statement.

"It's a great opportunity, especially [against] a team like Virginia Tech that has had such long-term success," Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee said. "I think it's an opportunity that we're really looking forward to."

This week also represents an opportunity for the entire ACC, which has taken its lumps so far this season. After winning only one non-conference game against an FBS opponent on the season's opening weekend, Maryland's squeaker over FCS foe James Madison and Florida State's struggle to beat FCS program Jacksonville State last week overshadowed Wake Forest's win over Stanford and North Carolina's victory over Connecticut.

The ACC could redeem itself somewhat if Virginia Tech beats Nebraska and Florida State upsets BYU this week.

Key matchup: BYU QB Max Hall vs. Florida State pass defense. The Seminoles spent their season opener making Miami's Jacory Harris look like an All-America candidate. So how are they going to fare against an actual All-America candidate? FSU needs to put together some kind of pass rush or Hall will pick apart the Seminoles' suspect secondary. The Seminoles recorded seven sacks last week in a 19-9 escape of Jacksonville State, but they gave Harris far too much time to throw in the opener. Hall struggled last season when TCU and Utah pressured him, but he does an exceptional job of utilizing his weapons when he's not under duress. Florida State must watch out for wide receiver McKay Jacobson, who caught the winning touchdown pass against Oklahoma. Florida State historically has struggled to defend tight ends, and the Seminoles can't allow Mackey Award candidate Dennis Pitta to have a big night.

On the spot: North Carolina receiving corps. Through the first two games of the season, North Carolina doesn't have a wide receiver with more than 76 receiving yards. The Tar Heels' most productive receiver has been tight end Zack Pianalto, who will miss the next three to four weeks with a dislocated right foot. Pianalto's injury will put even more pressure on a receiving corps still trying to cope with the departures of first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks, third-round pick Brandon Tate and fifth-round selection Brooks Foster. Greg Little has caught a team-high 10 passes, but he hasn't produced big plays. Freshman Erik Highsmith has four catches for 59 yards, but no other wide receiver has more than two catches. The Tar Heels could face a tough test Saturday against a solid East Carolina secondary that features star free safety Van Eskridge, though the Pirates did allow 334 passing yards last week in a 35-20 loss to West Virginia.

Numbers game: In the first two weeks of the season, ACC punt returners already have scored six touchdowns, which exceeds their total of four from the 2008 season. The ACC actually matched that 2008 total in the opening week. Georgia Tech's Jerrard Tarrant has led the way by scoring on a punt return in each of the Yellow Jackets' first two games.

What they're saying

"We've got a starting quarterback. The circumstances are like a pitcher in baseball. If the pitcher needs relief help, he's going to get relief help. If he can pitch a complete game, then he's going to be left in there. But you can see now why I've been saying all along that regardless of play, I wanted Sean Renfree to play. I should have played him in the first game and didn't. I had plans to play him, without a doubt, at Army. And I have plans to play him again this week. It's not a two-quarterback system. It's that we have a starting quarterback, and we'll always start the player that gives us the best chance to win all the way through our entire operation." - Duke coach David Cutcliffe, on his quarterback situation after Renfree replaced an ineffective Thaddeus Lewis and helped the Blue Devils come from behind in a 35-19 victory over Army.

"Gino Torretta, Ken Dorsey, William Joseph, Santana Moss hit me up. [Torretta and Dorsey] congratulated me, told me to keep the team focused, make sure we don't get big-headed, keep this thing going. Everyone wants us to bring the 'U' back on top, to glory days, and that's something we're trying to do." - Miami QB Jacory Harris, to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the feedback he has received from former Hurricanes in the wake of a 38-34 season-opening victory over Florida State

"The result speaks for itself, but I still don't think we lost. We lost, but we didn't lose. Kind of like a lose-win situation, where we gained as a team and we saw that when we do come together that we can really be a dangerous bunch of individuals." - Clemson WR Jacoby Ford, to TigerIllustrated about the Tigers' 30-27 loss to Georgia Tech. Clemson rallied from a 24-0 deficit to take a 27-24 lead before eventually falling

"I think we've been talking to the press too much. We are going to quit talking and start blocking. That's our new motto, and me, too." - Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, toWarchant.com , explaining why he made all his linemen off-limits to the media this week. FSU is averaging 3.4 yards per carry this season after averaging 4.8 last season

"I'm not going to predict wins or anything, but we're capable of competing with anybody. We're going to win some games. We're definitely going to do that. There's no doubt about that. The guys we got, nobody's going to back down. Everybody's willing to work." - Virginia QB Jameel Sewell, to The Washington Post after a 30-14 loss to TCU dropped the Cavaliers to 0-2.

Etc.: Boston College coach Frank Spaziani still isn't saying which quarterback will start or get the majority of the snaps Saturday at Clemson. Justin Tuggle has gone 9-for-17 for 206 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Eagles' first two games, while Dave Shinskie is 16-of-26 for 183 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. "There's not a great deal of separation," Spaziani said, "but there's a point where you take some of the information you have and make a decision." ... Saturday could mark the day when Clemson RB C.J. Spiller becomes the first player in ACC history to reach 2,500 career rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards and 1,500 kick-return yards. Spiller heads into the Boston College game with 2,434 rushing yards, 986 receiving yards and 1,471 kick-return yards. ... Maryland probably will have to play the rest of the season without CB Nolan Carroll, who broke a leg last week in a 38-35 overtime victory over James Madison. The loss of Carroll, one of four team captains, decimates a defense that already was allowing 43.5 points per game. ... Miami owns a 13-2 overall record and 9-0 home mark in Thursday night ESPN games since 1991. Then again, Georgia Tech's 41-23 victory over Miami last season came on a Thursday night ESPN contest. ... Wake Forest DE Kyle Wilbur will miss about six weeks with a broken left fibula. ... TE Zack Pianalto isn't the only North Carolina starter out for a significant length of time. C Lowell Dyer will miss at least three weeks with a strained shoulder muscle, which further hampers a line that already had depth concerns. ... Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer told The Miami Herald that he never seriously considered signing with Miami because former Hurricanes coach Larry Coker recruited him to play defense. "I didn't want to play defensive back," Dwyer said. ... An injury to CB DeMarcus Van Dyke probably will lead to Miami's Sam Shields making his first career start on defense Thursday. Shields, a former wide receiver, moved to cornerback during spring practice. ... CB Rashard Smith became the first true freshman to earn a start in North Carolina State's secondary since 2001 when he cracked the lineup last week for the Wolfpack's 65-7 victory over Murray State. Smith also is expected to be in the starting lineup this week against Gardner-Webb. ... North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson has thrown 293 consecutive passes without an interception, which gives him the second-longest streak in NCAA history. Former Kentucky QB Andre Woodson threw 325 passes without getting picked off in a streak that began in 2006 and carried into the 2007 season. ... Virginia QB Jameel Sewell's 21 carries last week in a 30-14 loss to TCU represented the highest total by a Cavaliers quarterback since Bill Dudley ran 22 times for 167 yards against Lehigh on Nov. 15, 1941. .. The announced attendance of 48,336 for the Virginia-TCU game represented the Cavaliers' smallest home crowd since 1999.

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

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