Thursday, October 17, 2013
What to watch in the ACC: Week 8
By Matt Fortuna
The moment is almost here. Florida State-Clemson is the highlight of this weekend's ACC lineup, and of the conference's season. National title implications, Heisman Trophy implications and much more are on the line Saturday night in Death Valley. Here's what to look for in that contest and everywhere else in the league this weekend, which gets a head start tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C.
1. Miami's ball security. The Hurricanes are a top-10 team and 5-0. But an overlooked aspect through this start has been just how sloppy they have been with the ball in recent weeks. Miami has turned the ball over four times in each of its last two contests, and it needs to be sharper offensively coming out of the bye week as it faces a nearly desperate North Carolina.
North Carolina hopes the return of Bryn Renner will help the Tar Heels get closer to their potential.
2. Bryn Renner's return. The UNC quarterback missed the Virginia Tech game two weeks ago because of a foot injury but will play against Miami. Marquise Williams was solid in Renner's spot and could see more time, but the Tar Heels need their veteran presence back as they look to shake the cobwebs from a 1-4 start and emerge from the bye looking more like the team that had Coastal Division title dreams entering Larry Fedora's second season. Their all-black uniforms -- part of their "Zero Dark Thursday" billing -- should be something to watch, too.
3. Terrel Hunt looks for breakout ACC performance. The Syracuse quarterback ran away with the starting job in strong outings against Wagner and Tulane, but he has struggled against Clemson and NC State. He threw for less than 100 yards in each contest, though he did rush for 92 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wolfpack. Still, Hunt must continue to grow and the offense has to continue to evolve after relying so much on the veteran ground game.
4. Georgia Tech D hopes for turnaround. The Yellow Jackets felt they turned a corner when they shut down UNC late last month to get to 3-0. But they have dropped three in a row since, giving up 38 or more points in each of the last two contests. Of course, throwing a pick-six in each of the last two games doesn't help matters, either, but Georgia Tech desperately needs a stronger performance from its defense to get back on track and be in position for a bowl berth.
5. C.J. Brown back leading Maryland. To be fair, Caleb Rowe played well last week against Virginia, but the Terrapins' offense operates at a different level with Brown in charge. Back from a concussion suffered at FSU, Brown will look to build off his nearly 64 percent completion percentage and help Maryland clinch bowl eligibility against Wake Forest, no small feat for a program that had just six total wins in coach Randy Edsall's first two seasons.
6. Duke's D looks to keep it going. The Blue Devils made a bit of a statement in their 35-7 win over Navy, their second straight game generating pressure up front. They will look to do that again this weekend against a struggling Virginia squad, though ACC offenses have not been kind to Duke in the past year. The Blue Devils have not won a league game since last Oct. 20 and have given up at least 38 points in every ACC contest since then.
7. Virginia looks for playmakers in the passing game.David Watford may have come of age at Maryland in defeat, but he needs some help from his receivers. Tight end Jake McGee leads the Cavaliers with 27 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but no receiver has reached the 20-catch mark. Virginia ranks 104th nationally in passing yards and must improve on offense after coming up just short against the Terrapins in a game that was closer than most expected it to be. The offense gave itself a chance at the end and did not give the ball away all game.
8. Can Pitt establish the run? For as much success as the Panthers have had through the air, their ground game has been M.I.A. through the season's first five games, ranking 105th nationally. They have tallied just eight and 23 yards, respectively, in their last two games against Virginia and Virginia Tech. Old Dominion and Navy these next two weeks should provide Pitt nice opportunities to gain some traction in the run game.
9. Famous Jameis' big moment. Everything about Jameis Winston says that he loves the spotlight. But the redshirt freshman sensation has never been tested the way he will Saturday night, as FSU's ACC and national title hopes rest on his right shoulder in the first major test of a career that looks destined for greatness. Can Winston handle the Death Valley atmosphere, and can he exceed the ridiculous expectations that have been placed on him since Week 1? He could be racking up some hardware if he plays anything like he has so far.
10. Spotlight again shines on Death Valley. "College GameDay" is back at Clemson for the second time this season in what is arguably the biggest regular-season game in ACC history. It's another chance for Tajh Boyd to make a Heisman stand, but the onus may ultimately fall on the Tigers' much-improved defense, which has a pass rush that leads the nation in sacks per game. The defense will look to do everything it can to rattle Winston early and solidify this squad as a legitimate national title contender with its second top-5 win of the season.