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September 15, 2011
It's Judgment Week for the ACC.
Saturday marks the first time in league history that four ACC teams have played host to nationally ranked non-conference foes on the same day. No. 5 Florida State meets top-ranked Oklahoma. Miami faces Ohio State, ranked 16th in the coaches' poll and 17th by The Associated Press. Clemson meets defending national champion Auburn, ranked 19th in the coaches' poll and 21st by the AP. And Maryland takes on West Virginia, ranked 18th by the AP and 20th in the coaches' poll.
The only previous time as many as three ACC schools played home games against ranked non-conference teams on the same day was in 1953, the league's inaugural season.
"Clearly, it's a great test for our conference," Miami coach Al Golden said. "It's a great test for all [the] programs individually. So I know we're excited for the challenge."
While this week's schedule is unprecedented in that respect, it's an annual tradition in another respect. Every year, the ACC has a chance to garner respect with a couple of high-profile wins over non-conference opponents early in the season.
It usually fails.
The Florida State-Oklahoma, Auburn-Clemson, Miami-Ohio State and Maryland-West Virginia matchups also took place last September, though the ACC teams were all away from home that year. The ACC came up short in each of those games. Virginia Tech's collapse against Boise State and subsequent loss to FCS program James Madison only added to the ACC's embarrassment.
Unfortunately for the league, last season wasn't an isolated incident.
While much has been made of the ACC's 2-11 record in BCS games, the league also hasn't done particularly well in the regular season. The ACC has gone 34-86 against nationally ranked non-conference foes since the start of the 2000 season, including a 13-44 mark since 2006.
Still, this isn't a league devoid of talent. The ACC has produced 37 first-round selections and 214 overall draft picks in the past six years to rank behind only the SEC in both categories. In the most recent draft, 15 of the first 60 players chosen were from the ACC. No other conference had more than 10 players selected among the first 60 picks.
More than 86 percent of the ACC players drafted from 2006-10 have played at least one NFL game, the highest percentage of any FBS conference. Moreover, 47 players from current ACC schools were selected for the past two Pro Bowls. No other conference had more than 30 Pro Bowl selections during that stretch.
The league is producing quality players.
Now it needs to produce quality wins.
"I don't think we're looking through rose-colored glasses when we feel like we've got a very good conference," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "... We're just going to have to win some of those big games that are intersectional, inter-conference."
There's no time like the present.
Best matchup: North Carolina WR Dwight Jones vs. Virginia CB Chase Minnifield. This huge week for the ACC creates all sorts of intriguing one-on-one matchups in non-conference games, but we'll use this space to spotlight a confrontation between league rivals. Jones already has caught 15 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns through his first two games. He had a huge game against Virginia last season, with seven catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Tar Heels' 44-10 rout. Minnifield, a first-team All-ACC selection a year ago, picked off six passes last season and has helped Virginia rank ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense so far this year. Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com, rates Minnifield as a late first-round pick in his latest 2012 mock draft. Jones, a 6-foot-4 senior, is 4 inches taller than Minnifield.
Players on the spot: Miami QB Jacory Harris. Although he has regained his starting spot after serving a one-game suspension to open the season, Harris also knows teammate Stephen Morris provides the Hurricanes with a viable alternative. Harris must reduce his mistakes in order to keep his job. The task starts Saturday against Ohio State, which picked off four of Harris' passes last season in the Buckeyes' 36-24 victory. If Harris plays well and leads Miami to an upset, he can regain the reputation as a big-game performer that he earned after helping the Hurricanes knock off Florida State and Oklahoma earlier in his career. If Harris commits a few turnovers in a Miami loss, there's no guarantee he remains the starter.
Keep an eye on: Florida State's defense. Although Florida State's defense improved quite a bit last season, the Oklahoma game wasn't one of its finest moments. Oklahoma reached the end zone on each of its first four possessions and never looked back in a 47-17 blowout. Landry Jones picked apart a FSU secondary that was enduring growing pains. That represented the first time CBs Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes had started against an FBS opponent, and it was the first time CB Mike Harris had faced an FBS team at all. FSU has allowed a total of 10 points while trouncing Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. Of course, Oklahoma represents an entirely different level of challenge. If FSU is going to win this game, the defense must handle Oklahoma's no-huddle attack and quick tempo much more effectively than it did last season.
[Related: FSU corners look for redemption]
Numbers game: Georgia Tech has recorded five offensive plays of at least 70 yards this season. No other conference has produced that many. The closest conference to Georgia Tech is the SEC, which has delivered four plays of at least 70 yards. Tech's big plays: Tevin Washington's 82- and 77-yard passes to Stephen Hill against Western Carolina, Orwin Smith's 77-yard run against Western Carolina, Washington's 73-yard completion to Tony Zenon against Middle Tennessee and Washington's 71-yard pass to Hill against Middle Tennessee. All five plays resulted in touchdowns.
Quotes of the week
"We're probably not throwing the ball more than we threw it a year ago. We're just completing some. It's a lot more fun when you complete them." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, on the improvement of the Yellow Jackets' passing attack. Tech is 24th nationally in passing yards per game after ranking 119th in that category last season. Tech is averaging 13 pass attempts per game, just as it did last season.
"I did not understand the significance of prostate cancer back then. What I knew was when something like that happens to a coach and your opponents find out about it, the first thing they say is, 'Don't go to Florida State. Coach Bowden is about to die.' If I knew then what I know now, I would have considered it my moral duty to bring it out in the open. I thought it was the right thing to do then, but that's not the message now." - Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, revealing to USA Today that he was treated for prostate cancer in 2007 and explaining why he kept it a secret at the time. His cancer is now in remission.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden]
"A game like that can really make or break you. That game really propelled Auburn. It was the catalyst for them pulling together as a football team. My hat's off to them because what they did last year is not easy to do at all. They found a way to win, and that's what good teams do. They haven't necessarily been a dominant team, but they've found a way to win. As the 'winning ball' gets rolling, you get that winning swagger and you can put together a winning streak like they have." - Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, discussing last season's game with Auburn. Clemson led that game 17-0 before Auburn rallied to win 27-24 in overtime.
"The only thing I can do is put my faith in the guys around me. And I have 100 percent faith in the guys around me. [I] know they'll take care of me. And they're the playmakers. I'm just the captain of the ship. They're the ones that work. Without them, the offense can't work. Those are the guys I need." - Miami QB Jacory Harris, to Canesport.com.
"I'm just ready to show the nation how hard we work. People think, 'Why should they fear us?' Look at what they did last year.' But we're a whole different team. We're a family bonded. We're together. We believe in each other. So it's going to be a great game to watch." - Florida State FS Lamarcus Joyner, to Warchant.com about the Seminoles' game with Oklahoma.
Poll watch: Florida State is fifth in each of the two major polls. Virginia Tech is ranked 12th in the coaches' poll and 13th by the AP. No other ACC teams are ranked.
Etc.: Boston College offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers has taken a leave of absence for health reasons. Tight ends coach Dave Brock will serve as the coordinator and quarterback coach in Rogers' absence. Brock previously worked as an offensive coordinator at Temple and Kansas State. ... Duke K Will Snyderwine is questionable for Saturday's game with Boston College. Snyderwine sat out part of preseason camp with an ankle injury and has missed his first four field-goal attempts this season. He aggravated the injury Saturday while attempting an onside kick. He went 21-of-24 and earned second-team All-ACC honors last season. Senior Jeffrey Ijjas or junior Paul Asack would handle the kicking duties if Snyderwine is sidelined. ... Florida State is 1-5 in its history against top-ranked teams. The Seminoles' lone victory over a top-ranked foe came when they knocked off Florida 24-21 in 1996. ... FSU may be tinkering with its offensive line. C Jacob Fahrenkrug has been working out at left guard this week, while G Bryan Stork has been practicing at center. The Seminoles tried out that combination late in last week's blowout of Charleston Southern. ... Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington would be leading the nation in passing efficiency if he had enough pass attempts to qualify. As it is, Georgia Tech leads the team pass efficiency rankings. Kansas, which faces Georgia Tech this week, is ranked fourth in that category. ... DT Joe Vellano's 30-yard fumble return and CB Cameron Chism's 54-yard interception return against Miami gave Maryland eight defensive touchdowns in its past 17 games. Before that stretch, Maryland had gone 41 games without scoring by a fumble or interception return. ... Miami G/T Brandon Washington worked out at left tackle this week and could end up starting there Saturday against Ohio State. Washington, an All-ACC guard last season, played right tackle in the opener against Maryland, with Joel Figueroa at left tackle. ... North Carolina is one of only five FBS teams that have played multiple games this season without allowing a sack. The others are Florida, Middle Tennessee, Ohio State and UCLA. ... North Carolina State's coaching staff has 259 seasons of combined experience in four-year colleges and the pro ranks. The only staff that is more seasoned is Penn State's, with 295 seasons of combined experience. ... Virginia's 34-31 victory over Indiana last week marked the Cavaliers' first road win over a Big Ten school. Virginia won at Penn State in 1989, four years before the Nittany Lions' inaugural season of Big Ten football. ... Virginia Tech will wear special white uniforms and white helmets for Saturday's game with Arkansas State. The helmets include a logo that features a "T" within a "V," similar to the logo worn by the Hokies from 1974-77. ... Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro has a sore hamstring that leaves him doubtful for Saturday's game against Gardner-Webb. Campanaro had a touchdown reception and a touchdown catch last week against North Carolina State, but the injury forced him to sit out the second half. Lovell Jackson, a junior with one career reception, likely would start in Campanaro's place.
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